Featured Image: Paul Nicklen
By: Kira Krall
National Geographic and NOAA certainly earned our seal of approval when they joined forces to learn more about the Antarctic’s elusive super-predator, leopard seals.
Leopard seals can reach up to 11.5 feet long and weigh up to 1,300 pounds. We don’t know too much about these massive mammals because they spend a good majority of their time underwater. One team of researchers decided it was time they figured out what these sneaky seals were doing sublevel.
NOAA and National Geographic teamed up and found seven female leopard seals, sedated them, and attached an underwater “Critter Cam” to the animals. After seven days, the researchers collected the cameras and analyzed the footage. What they found on the 50 hours of footage has never been seen before.
Image Credit: Source
There’s low biodiversity in the Antarctic and not much meat to eat. The Antarctic is so barren of prey that leopard seals have evolved sieve-like teeth to allow them to sift plankton and krill out of the water.
What does this steep competition for food mean? That leopard seals don’t like sharing their food when they snag larger prey. And they’re not above pinching a meal, especially when someone else has caught their favorite food.
Antarctic fur seals are a leopard seal staple. The leopard seal named 397G had six fur seals stolen from her over the course of the seven days.
She was the victim of kleptoparasitism, or the theft of a prey item from another predator. But each time 397G was robbed, she immediately began patrolling the shore for another shot at some food. She caught another meal within 10 minutes.
Featured Credit: National Geographic via Youtube
This underwater Crittercam has shown the world the secret behaviors of leopard seals. They were documented dragging seals off the ice, hunting for bottom-feeding fish, and stashing their recent catches on the ocean floor to save for later.
This unprecedented look at leopard seal behavior has given us an incredible amount of understanding about this elusive super-predator.