Predator & Prey

Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) with a wound, possibly from a leopard seal.

Leopard seals are well known in Antarctic waters for their impressive hunting skills.  They have been documented taking a wide range of prey.  This includes most species of penguins as well as other seal species and krill.

Leopard seals will often patrol penguin colonies in anticipation of penguins approaching or leaving the zone.  Once captured the penguins are often thrashed about at the surface to ‘deglove’ (remove the skin) the carcass.

 

A leopard seal predating on an Adelie penguin (fledgling), Brown Bluff, Antarctica

The teeth structure of leopard seals indicates their diverse range of prey items – as they not only have sharp and large canines for grasping prey such as penguins, but they have remarkably tri-lobulated teeth that are used to filter krill.

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807–1894) drew this incredibly detailed picture of a leopard seal skull. Note the difference between the canine and other teeth.

In New Zealand waters we now have evidence – both photographic and from scat (seal poo), that leopard seals here also have a wide variety of prey in their diet.  Currently we are analyzing the scats which have been collected (but we are still interested in receiving more, so if you are a dedicated Citizen Scientist, please check out how you can help collect seal scat).

The leopard seal known as “Owha’, feeding on a parore (Girella tricuspidata), Tutukaka Harbour, Northland, New Zealand.