Photo: Leopard seal

Leopard seals, named for their spotted coats, are one of the primary predators of Antarctica.

Photograph by John Eastcott and Yva Momatiuk

Map

Map: Leopard seal range

Leopard Seal Range

Fast Facts

Type:
Mammal
Diet:
Carnivore
Average life span in the wild:
12 to 15 years
Size:
10 to 11.5 ft (3 to 3.5 m)
Weight:
Up to 840 lbs (380 kg)
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Leopard seal compared with adult man

The leopard seal is named for its black-spotted coat. The pattern is similar to that of the famous big cat, though the seal's coat is gray rather than golden in color. This seal is sometimes called the sea leopard, and the resemblance is more than skin deep. Like their feline namesakes, leopard seals are fierce predators. They are the most formidable hunters of all the seals and the only ones that feed on warm-blooded prey, such as other seals. Leopard seals use their powerful jaws and long teeth to kill smaller seals, fish, and squid.

These effective predators live in frigid Antarctic and sub-Antarctic waters, where they also eat penguins. They often wait underwater near an ice shelf and snare the birds just as they enter the water after jumping off the ice. They may also come up beneath seabirds resting on the water surface and snatch them in their jaws.

Shellfish are a far less dramatic prey but still an important part of the leopard seal's diet.

Leopard seals are earless seals. They have long bodies (10 to 11.5 feet/3 to 3.5 meters) and elongated heads. Like most other seals, leopard seals are insulated from frigid waters by a thick layer of fat known as blubber.

Though the leopard seal is known for its coat, it has not been commercially hunted for its skin like its fur seal relatives.

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