Leopard Seals are so named for their colouration and predatory lifestyle. Their backs are dark and spotted and on the sides and below they are silvery pale, which aids in camouflage. These high order predators hunt seals and penguins for the bulk of their diet. Leopard Seals are unique among seals, and many other mammals, as the female is usually significantly larger than the male.
Seals currently not visible
We will be re-sealing the Great Southern Ocean pools during May and June to ensure the exhibit is at the best possible standard. This means all seal and penguin viewing areas will be closed for the duration of the works. But don’t be worry, the Seal Show will still be on daily and access is available to the lower Entrance and Sky Safari via the elevator and stairs.
Distribution & Habitat
These seals live almost exclusively on the pack ice of the Antarctic continent. Sometimes sick or old individuals have been found on surrounding coastlines as far north as Lord Howe Island.
Mating occurs in the water from November to February and gestation lasts around nine months, with most births occurring in October and November. The female gives birth to a single pup, which weighs about thirty kilograms. The pup's coat is soft and thick, dark grey above with a dorsal stripe, pale on the sides and with black spots below. As for all seals, male Leopard Seals do not participate in parental care.
The diet of the Leopard Seal is quite variable but still poorly known due to the lack of research. Generally, Leopard Seals eat an unusually high level of warm blooded mammals. Crabeater and Fur Seals often bear scars from Leopard Seal attacks. Prey is thought to include Krill, seals, fish and penguins. Portions vary according to age, seasonal abundance of food, and location.
Leopard Seals possess an extensive repertoire of vocalisations similar to that of the Humpback Whale. Their songs may be used to communicate territorial boundaries, breeding season behaviours and simply to announce their presence.
Adults reach 3.3 to 3.8 metres in length. The body is streamlined and massive, with a very large head and long, broad fore flippers. In addition to having well developed canines, the jaw is lined with tricuspid teeth that enable the Leopard Seal to filter Krill from the water.
Climate change is the primary threat to the Leopard Seal. Physical changes in the Antarctic continent influence where the Leopard Seal is able to hunt for food and satisfy its breeding season requirements. As the structure and seasonal pattern of pack ice formation is threatened, so too is the Leopard Seal.
Leopard Seals, especially the young, seasonally depend on Krill, but are less competitive than other krill-feeding species. This reliance on Krill numbers means factors such as competition and commercial overfishing have a significant adverse effect on Leopard Seal populations.
It is unknown to what degree Leopard Seals are directly affected by climate change, however many indirect changes may affect this species.