Seals of Antarctica
The seals that populate the southern ocean flourish in the nutrient rich waters of the poles. With diets that range from krill and small fish to even penguins and other seal pups, they are expert divers and can be seen lounging or breeding on the ice when they are not immersed deep beneath the pack ice hunting for food.
The seemingly amphibious seals can be seen gliding gracefully through the water or resting comfortably on pack ice. These well adapted southern mammals are both efficient hunters and expert divers.
Although they all share the Antarctic region, each seal species has distinct social behaviors, diets, and physical characteristics. They range in size from the small female fur seals that weigh just 50 lbs (22kg) to the giant male elephant seals, weighing in at nearly 9,000 lbs (3,700kg).
Thanks to the Antarctic Treaty and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals, all of the populations that inhabit this region have healthy populations that number between hundreds of thousands and millions, though it is hard to get a precise count because they are often diving or living on pack ice.
- Weddell Seals (Leptonychotes wedelli): Other than the impressive elephant seals, Weddell seals reign as the diving champions of the Antarctic, able to stay underwater for over 80 minutes and dive to incredible depths of up to 600m.
- Diet: Fish, Squid, and occasionally invertebrates.
- Population: 500,000-1 million
- Where to spot them: As far south as the McMurdo Sound and as far north as the sub-Antarctic, making them the southernmost breeding animal in the world.
- Average Weight: 400-450 kg (880-990 lbs)
- Average Length (males): 2.9m (9.5 ft)
- Average Length (females): 3.3m (11ft)
- Crabeater Seals (Lobodon carcinophagus): Ironically, these seals bear an erroneous name as their diet is made up of krill, fish, and squid, but no crab. The error owes to their mistaken classification by early sealers in the polar waters.
- Diet: Mostly krill and sometimes fish & squid
- Population: 11-12 million
- Where to spot them: Pack ice in the polar Antarctic
- Average Weight: 200-300 kg (440-660 lbs)
- Average Length: 2.6m (8.5 ft)
- Southern Elephant Seals (Mirounga leonina): The enormous male elephant seals are the largest land mammal in Antarctica. While the females are significantly smaller than the males, they still dominate as one of the largest land animals of the south.
- Diet: Primarily squid (around 75%); about 25% fish.
- Population: approximately 650,000
- Where to spot them: Throughout the deep south Antarctic and sub-Antarctic as far north as the Falkland Islands.
- Average Weight (males): 1500-3700 kg (3,300-8,200 lbs)
- Average Weight (females): 350 - 800 kg (771-1,700 lbs)
- Average Length (males): 4.5-5.8m (15-20 ft)
- Average Length (females): 2.8m (9ft)
- Leopard Seals (Hydrurga leptonyx): Other than the mighty killer whale, these seals are the top predator in the southern ocean. Their size and strength allow them to prey on anything from fish to penguins and even other seal pups.
- Diet: Anything small enough to kill, including fish, sea birds, squids, penguins, and seal pups of other species.
- Population: approximately 300,000
- Where to spot them: northern sub-Antarctic waters, near penguin colonies during breeding season or in open water or hauled out on pack ice.
- Average Weight (males): 300 kg (660 lbs)
- Average Weight (females): 260-500 kg (573-1100 lbs)
- Average Length (males): 2.8-3.3m (9-11 ft)
- Average Length (females): 2.9-3.6m (9.5-12 ft)
- Southern Fur Seals (Arctocephalus gazella): Although fur seals can out-dive even the fittest snorkelers at depths of 30-40m, compared to other seals they are rookies, lasting just 2-10 minutes below water.
- Diet: Primarily krill, but also fish and squid seasonally and occasionally penguins
- Population: 5-7.5 million
- Where to spot them: sub-Antarctic islands usually on land rather than ice
- Average Weight (males): 130-210 kg (290-460 lbs)
- Average Weight (females): 22-55 kg (50-120 lbs)
- Average Length (males): 1.8m (6 ft)
- Average Length (females): 1.2-1.4m (4-4.5 ft)