Marine Wildlife Encyclopedia
Leopard Seal Hydrurga leptonyx
With its long muzzle and sharply constricted neck, this solitary predator looks very different from other seal species found off Antarctica. Unlike most true seals, it propels itself forward through the water with its front flippers rather than its rear ones—a characteristic that it shares with fur seals and sea lions. Its body is black or dark gray with a silvery underside, marked with darker flecks and spots. Its jaws are exceptionally powerful, with an unusually wide gape, and they are armed with long incisors and canine teeth, as well as elaborate cheek teeth that can strain food from the water. About half of the leopard seal’s diet consists of krill, but the remainder is made up of much larger animals that it hunts individually. For example, leopard seals are adept at catching penguins as they enter the water, throwing them into the air to rip the skin and feathers from their bodies. They also prey on squid, fish, and other seals. Females give birth to a single pup each year, weaning it at the age of four weeks.