Another interesting profile post on an animal I want to know more about! Yay! A few weeks back they had a lecture on Weddell Seals, their behaviors, and their physical attributes. Just this last week they had a talk on Weddell Seal mothers and how they take care of their young in such a harsh environment. I missed both of these due to me having to start work at the same time as the lectures start time, which I’m a little disappointed about. Hence, the impromptu research post on seals. I’m excited for this one lol. Now, in the Antarctic there are only 6 seals that are indigenous out of the 35 species of seals in the world. Out of these 6 species, they make up most of the worlds’ population of seals. I’m going to focus on the Weddell Seal and the Leopard Seal since that’s the 2 species that I’ll likely see around here.
The Weddell Seal is the most human-friendly species of all the seals and the most studied, since it’s closest to any human habitations of any other sub-species. The population is estimated at around 800,000 seals, making it one of the most plentiful seals in the world due to their living practices. They live under the pack ice away from open water, making it hard for Orcas or Leopard Seals to prey on them.
The Weddell Seal maintains breathing holes on the ice shelf and rests on top of the ice or the shore when possible. Since they’re away from most predators, their general life span can normally reach around 30 years. Weddell Seals are unique in regards to their hunting practices. Their body can absorb 5 times the amount of oxygen in their body than humans. On top of that, they have reserved caches of oxygen in their spleen, making their blood consist of a much higher concentrations of myoglobin. They can dive on a regular basis to depths of 1,000 feet (300 meters) but have known to dive much deeper, for up to 80 minutes.
Their physical metabolic reaction when diving deep stays consistent throughout their dive, creating a build up of lactic acids in their muscles that doesn’t get released until they resurface. This is done by restricting the capillaries going through the muscles which makes for a pretty long recovery time after a dive. They also slow their heart rate and restrict blood flow going to vital organs such as the brain, liver, and kidneys. They’re not a migratory species, usually never leaving the vicinity of a couple miles of where they were born. They can be found in groups on hundreds but usually in smaller family groups. Their physical presence and features are likened to cats, with whiskers they use to sense their surroundings and a flatter face that seems to be always upturned into a cat-like smile. Their whiskers are actually used to sense a fish’s wake in the water or any other disturbance around, with more than 500 nerve endings connected to the snout. They use this technique to hunt for fish in the dark winter months where there’s months without the sun. The actual view of these animals on the ice recovering is pretty depressing looking since they’re 1200 lbs. of pure blubber but up close, they’re really cute.
The Leopard Seal is a completely different story. Anyone I’ve talked to about the Leopard Seal have described them as the polar bear of the Antarctic. They’re the most aggressive of any seal in the world and the 2nd largest in Antarctic. They’ve been known to attack humans in the water if they feel threatened in any way. It’s not a good idea to even get in the water in areas where Leopard Seals are known to exist in. They generally don’t attack humans on land since there are usually much smaller and easier prey to catch, such as penguins and weddel seals. Their behavior towards other Leopard Seals are pretty reserved. They don’t stay in large groups. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see a seal by itself or in a pair. They remind me of polar bears in that regard. One of the highest apex predators in any area tend to be more solitary than anything.
Their only real predators are the Orca Whale and certain species of sharks, which tend to be few and far between. This helps the Leopard Seal by having no real threat on land and being close to invulnerable in the ocean waters around Antarctica. The outward appearance of the animal is almost reptilian, having a slender head and neck with teeth protruding much like a snake. The teeth are almost twice the size of Weddel Seal. This helps the Leopard Seal since it kills animals on land by grabbing them and repeatedly thrashing them onto the ice until it’s dead. In the water, they can sever off chunks on bigger prey or swallow fish whole. They’re very agile out of the water but when you see them swimming, they’re like torpedoes coming for you.
Offspring of Leopard Seals are extremely well taken care of by the mothers. The only other animal that shows any slight aggression towards the baby Leopard Seal is the male Leopard Seal, usually with the mother putting a stop to any attack really quickly. The gestation period is 11 months for the mother. They dig a hole in the ice to give birth that can take months for the mother to prepare. There’s a lot we don’t know about the Leopard Seal’s mating. Actually, there’s virtually nothing known about this since the mating groups are in extremely remote places. Both of these seals are wildly beautiful. One, the cute seal that looks so lazy laying on the ice everyday. The other, dangerous and insanely gorgeous. I really hope I get the chance to see a Leopard Seal before I leave here. I feel extremely lucky to get the chance to see any of this so even if I don’t, it’s still great my interest got peaked enough to write this.
***Update on me. I’m doing some amazing things down here. I get to drive a big lifted truck on the ice everyday to haul food out to the runway. It’s nice to get out of town from time to time. I went on a pressure ridge tour through the ice ridges made by waves under the ocean, cracking the ice, and pushing them up onto each other. The view from everywhere is astounding and the people here are amazing. I’m still unsure of what I’m doing after I get out of here but I’ve pretty much decided I’m not going to winter-over this year. I’m shooting for next year with that. I don’t know entirely where I’ll be for the summer but I’ve had some interesting job prospects. Keep following me, this next week will resolve a lot of questions. Have a good day! A special thanks to the beautiful Elise for being such a good photographer.
Pics for days…