The leopard seal is more impressive than you think

Welcome to our new “whale of the month,” the leopard seal. This muscular seal has a large reptilian-like head and is the third-largest pinniped in the world. This Antarctic seal has also been featured in a TikTok video on a beach in South Australia, a couple of days ago. Whether you came here from TikTok or not, find out more about this top predator down below.

An aggressive top predator

Leopard seals are not only large predators (2.9 – 3.6 m), but they also have big teeth and aggressive behaviors. Additionally, they are pretty solitary as adults and like to keep to themselves. When looking for food, the leopard seal is opportunistic and will feed on anything it can seek its teeth into, ranging from krill and fish to penguins and even other seal pups. Researchers also believe leopard seals are potentially responsible for a decrease in crabeater seal populations, due to their tendency to snack on crabeater seal pups.

Some interactions between leopard seals with humans have been brutal and even involved the death of biologist Kristy Brown in 2003. The biologist was snorkeling in a cove when a leopard seal snapped her and held her underwater for about six minutes. Her team was not able to resuscitate her. Other events in Antarctic expeditions involved a leopard seal either chasing after a researcher or trying to drag them underwater. Therefore, one should be extremely careful and leave these animals alone.

However, one positive interaction was recorded by Paul Nicklen in Antarctica and involved a leopard seal bringing the photographer penguins.

Who eats leopard seals?

Killer whales are leopard seals’ predators. Two preying events were reported in the literature: one in 1977 and the other in 1980. Yet, witnessing such interactions is rare in such a remote location, so no one knows how frequently killer whales hunt leopard seals.

Far from home: a leopard seal on an Australian beach!

A couple of days ago, 17-year-old Flynn Webb found a sleeping leopard seal on a beach in South Australia. The teenager thought the animal was dead, so he tried to give it a pat when suddenly the seal woke up and growled at Flynn. Despite the dangerous act and a lack of respect for the sleeping animal, the video is another proof that leopard seals can venture far North, even to Australia. Several leopard seals have been recorded in New South Wales and South Australia in the past couple of years. One hypothesis to the seals’ presence in Australia is their food search for delicious fish.

Did you like this post? Find out more about seals in our other post on crabeater seals:

This seal has the craziest teeth in the carnivore world

Sources and additional reading

  • Siniff, D. B., and J. L. Bengtson. “Observations and hypotheses concerning the interactions among crabeater seals, leopard seals, and killer whales.” Journal of Mammalogy 58.3 (1977): 414-416.
  • Bester, M. N., et al. “The leopard seal at Marion Island, vagrant or seasonal transient? s.” South African Journal of Wildlife Research-24-month delayed open access 36.2 (2006): 195-198.
  • Rogers, Tracey L. “Leopard seal: Hydrurga leptonyx.” Encyclopedia of marine mammals. Academic Press, 2009. 673-674.

Anaïs is the founder of Whale Scientists. She is a PhD student at McGill University working on killer whale ecology and pollution. You can read more about her here.

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