Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Leopard Seal

Seals are cute. Especially baby seals. Baby seal pin ups are how activists sell the idea that seal hunting is a hideous, cruel, sport perpetrated by blood-thirsty hunters upon gentle, creatures who eat little, ugly, fishes and do nothing else but sun themselves all day.

"Ohai! Please don't bludgeon my cuteness! kthxbai"

"Me too!"

Seals have to catch the ugly little fish they eat because unlike places where most of us have seen seals, no scuba suit wearing seal handler is tossing them fish out of a blue bucket. Catching fish requires elite swimming skills and since they don't have paws they have to catch them with their faces. Faces full of sharp teeth. Carnivorous teeth. Because why? They are carnivores. Carnivores don't just eat fish. They eat whatever meat is available to them. This includes sea birds and in the case of one deadly, predatory seal - other seals.

Behold the leopard seal:


Leopard seals hang out in Antarctica and surrounds where they are the penultimate apex predator with only the orca above them in deadly fearsomeness.

In blue, the range of the leopard seal 


Leopard seals grow to about 3.5m (12 ft) or essentially the length of a small car walrus only half their weight. Their fur is spotted and that's where they get their name.

Here is what 3.5m or 12ft looks like next to a man next to a dead penguin

And they have huge mouths that open really wide. Like a snake, really.

Leopard seals have canines on their molars

As you can see in the above photo their molars fit tightly together because one of the other things they eat is krill. They filter the krill-filled water through their molars the way whales filter the water with their baleen plates, flushing out the water and eating the remaining krill.

When humans run into leopard seals in the wild they are often taken for prey and the seals are somewhat aggressive. Two people have been known to be attacked and one person known to have been killed by a leopard seal. Or, they could just as easily play with you. Frolicking around like you would imagine a seal should do. They do that with penguins they don't want to eat too.

"Watch as I threaten to turn you into a huge pile of droppings and use the pile to
mark that pack ice over there as mine!"

So what got me started on this? I saw a video of beautiful high definition photos recently that were taken by Paul Nicklen, a National Geographic photographer, who came face to face with a full grown leopard seal while diving in Antarctica. Many of the photos above are from this video. The leopard seal he encountered seemed to think he was some dolt who needed remedial lessons in the art of hunting. Because she seemed to think the photographer was the sorriest excuse for a hunter she ever met, and because she was feeling generous, she decided he needed hand-feeding and brought him things she herself would have loved to eat. This matronly behavior continued for four days. It's kind of funny in a scary I'm-so-glad-it-wasn't-me-diving-in-Antarctica-with-a-leopard-seal kind of way.


More information on the leopard seal here.

2 comments:

iambriezy said...

That is an incredible story! I love your blog.

Frimmy said...

I keep reading that over and over and it makes me happy.