The leopard seal belongs to the Phocidae family, and is the second largest seal, the first being the elephant seal, to inhabit Antarctic. They are mostly sighted along the coast of Antarctica, southern Australia, Tasmania, and South Africa. They are also seen along the Atlantic coast of South America. Its life span is approximately twenty-six years. These keystone predators are hunted down by Orcas, who co-exist along with these majestic mammals. The leopard seal is large and muscular. The color of an adult varies from gray on the back, to a lighter shade of gray on the underside, the stomach. It is the whitish spots on the throat region that give them their name, with the similarity drawn to the appearance of the land predator.
The females are larger than the males, who are also called bulls. The males are approximately 2.8 meters long, and can weigh nearly 300 kg. The cows, or females, are around 3 meters long, and weigh up to 370 kg! These creatures swim with the help of their hind limbs. The highly developed fore limbs offer good steering movement in the water. They hunts in shallow water, unlike the Ross seals and the elephant seals. Its jaws are very flexible and opens wide enough to accommodate any size of prey. The front teeth are sharp, to tear and rip, while the molars lock, to keep out the water and so as to not allow the prey to escape.
Their eyesight and sense of smell are developed and make them formidable predators in water. Leopard seals live in the cold waters of the Antarctica and spend most of their time in water; although, in winter, they are spotted on the southern coasts. These otherwise solitary creatures only socialize with the intent of mating. The gestation period is nine months and the female gives birth to a single pup in a hole created in the ice. The cow feeds and protects the pup till it is big enough to take good care of itself. They are curious by nature and are also observed playing with penguins that they have no intentions of devouring.
Leopard seals eat mostly fish, squid, and krill. They also feed on penguins and crabeater seals. When hunting, they kill by grabbing the prey and shaking it vigorously, beating the body against the surface of the water repeatedly. This is done to ensure that the prey is still or dead prior to ripping the flesh apart. They flip over the prey consistently, to tear the flesh. There are a number of incidents of aggressive behavior and attacks on humans on record. They are also known to puncture inflatable boats and snap at feet through the ice! It is on record with 18 penguins passing through its digestive system, when the dead specimen was dissected for research. The leopard seal is slow and clumsy on land, and not much of a danger to the penguins.
The predatory nature of this creature results in a distinct alarm call by penguins, when the hunter is spotted. The call is a warning to the others and a siren to keep away. The mammals are unique to their natural habitat and a beautiful sight to behold on the surroundings of snow. Their movements on land are slow and this is largely so not only because of their size, but also because of the shape of their appendages. Their gait on land too is influenced by the enormous bodies. These gorgeous mammals need to be protected, and the major manmade issues that are likely to affect the growth of their population include pollution and global warming.