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Common Name: Leopard Seal

Scientific Name: Hydrurga letonyx


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Pinnipedia

Genus: Hydrurga

Species: H. leptonyx


The Hydrurga Letonyx is commonly known as a leopard seal. Adult leopard seals are large, strong, and typically grow to be between 10.5 feet and 11.2 feet. Male seals, also known as bulls, can weigh up to 1,000 lbs. Female seals, also know as cows can weigh up to 1,300 lbs. Leopard seals do not start their lives that large. A baby seal, also known as a pup, will begin its life at only 66 lbs.


The leopard seal is named for its spotted coat. The fur on their back is a dark gray to almost a bluish color. They have silvery whitish fur on their throat and underside belly with black spots. Other than the spotted coat some characteristics that help identify a leopard seal is the fact that it has no ears and they have a long lizard like face. Also they have very long teeth and powerful jaws.


The Leopard seal is able to adapt to frigid waters because it has a thick layer of fat known as blubber. Leopard seals are most commonly found in the cold waters of Antarctica and on most sub-Antartic islands. They are also occasionally found in the waters of Southern Australia, Tasmania, South Africa, New Zealand, Lord Howe Island, Tierra del Fuego, the Cook Islands and The Atlantic coast of South America. Leopard seals will not be found in groups in these locations as they normally are very solitary and do not come together until it is time for mating. Leopard Seals are carnivores and big predators.


Their diet covers a variety of other creatures including krill, fish, squid, seabirds, penguins and a wide range of other seals. Their senses of eyesight and smell are very developed and help them in being formidable predators. They often stay just below the surface until they attack seabirds or penguins grabbing them by their feet, leopard seals do not like feathers so they often beat the birds against the surface and eat only the meat. They have also been known to follow creatures from just below the ice waiting for the chance to leap up and catch their unsuspecting prey. Since they are very large and ferocious they are very near the top of the food chain and the only creature that preys on the leopard seal is the killer whale.


A leopard seal can live up to at least 26 years. They are not an endangered species and seem to be in able to stay away from hunters. Many humans fear the leopard seal and they also have difficulty reaching their habitats due to the ice packs and accessibility to the areas in which they live. Their population is still expected to be between 220,000 to 440,000 leopard seals. Leopard seals have been known to attack humans on occasion.


They seem to be attracted to rafts and pontoons that scientists use, and they will puncture holes in them. Leopard seals also seem to enjoy stalking humans that walk also ice edges or thin layers of ice, waiting for their chance to jump up and snap at peoples’ feet through holes in the ice or who dare too walk to close to the edge. With the appearance or their heads being compared to a reptile and their jaw being able to open up more than 160 degrees they can take a very large bite out of any unsuspecting creature.


Author: Emily V

Published: 04/2009




Photo Credit: Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences






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