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Four Animal Facts: The Leopard Seal

Scientific name: Hydrurga leptonyx

1) Fierce as a leopard

Leopard seals are named after their spotty coats and for their reputation of being fearsome hunters. It is one of the top predators in Antarctic waters, filling the niche that polar bears hold in the Arctic.

Leopard seals have a spotted coat
Leopard seals have a spotted coat

2) Predator and prey

It is the only pinniped that feeds extensively upon warm-blooded animals. They, in turn, are sometimes preyed upon by orcas (killer whales), another warm-blooded animal.

Leopard seal facts
Leopard seal facts: they feed extensively on mammals.

3) The unique dentition of a leopard seal

The unique dentition of the leopard seal allows them to have a surprisingly varied diet.

Their front canines and incisors are designed to capture and tear prey like other seals (crabeater seals and Antarctic fur seal pups), seabirds, and penguins (mostly Adélie penguins). Their back molars present interlocking cusps to strain krill (a shrimp-like crustacean) out of seawater. Although leopard seals are powerful predators, tiny krill actually make up the majority of their diet.

Dentition of a leopard seal
Dentition of a leopard seal

Other food items include cephalopods, fish and squid and they are known to scavenge upon dead whales and other seals.

4) Graceful swimmers

Unlike other “true” seals (the phocid family) that swim by moving their hind limbs from side to side, leopard seals swim gracefully using powerful, long, and simultaneous strokes of the forelimbs in a manner similar to the “eared” seals (otariids) like sea lions.

Viewing leopard seals on Antarctica
Viewing leopard seals in Antarctica

Hal Brindley at the Antarctic Circle

Hal Brindley

Brindley is an American conservation biologist, wildlife photographer, filmmaker, writer, and illustrator living in Asheville, NC. He studied black-footed cats in Namibia for his master’s research, has traveled to all seven continents, and loves native plant gardening. See more of his work at Travel for Wildlife, Truly Wild, Our Wild Yard, & Naturalist Studio.