Antarctica Wildlife in Pictures: The Leopard Seal

Curiosity

Named after its spotted coat, the leopard seal is one of Antarctica’s fiercest predators. It is also one of my favourite photography subjects in the region.

As our zodiac slowly navigates through a maze of ice, we notice a dark shadow breaking up the monotony of blue and white hues. The shape begins to move, confirming it is a seal repositioning itself on the ice floe it is resting on. But we are still too far away to identify the species: is it a weddell, a crabeater or a leopard seal?

We move closer and the spots on the underbelly of its coat become clearer. It looks like a leopard seal. We edge even closer, breaking the silence it had been enjoying and it turns its head to check us out. It slowly opens its mouth – wide – and reveals an intimidating collection of long and sharp teeth.

Yes, it is definitely a leopard seal!

Satisfied that we are neither predator nor prey, the seal closes it mouth and I let out a gasp of air, unaware that I had been holding my breath. These are the teeth of one of Antarctica’s fiercest predators and I am reminded that we don’t make the rules in this part of the world – nature does.

Zodiac Cruising - Neko Harbour, Antarctica

The leopard seal is the only seal in the region that hunts warm-blooded prey and it enjoys a diet of penguins, fish, krill and even the young of other seals. It is a solitary creature and formidable predator, using its speed and sharp teeth to capture and dismantle its prey.

It doesn’t have the piercing eyes of the elephant seals, it doesn’t possess the cute factor of the fur seal pups, but it is one of my favourite animals in Antarctica. Whether it’s resting on an ice floe, lifting its head in curiosity, moving effortlessly through the water or bearing its predatory teeth in a growl or yawn, it demands respect.

Approach a leopard seal on an ice floe and you will immediately feel its presence. Watch one turn to look at you and you will feel its eyes piercing through you with curiosity before shifting to a blank stare of indifference. Notice one in the water and you will catch your breath, wondering for a moment how safe you are in the zodiac.

Pleneau Bay, Antarctica

But despite its reputation for being one of Antarctica’s fiercest predators, there have been few unprovoked attacks upon humans. To the contrary, photographer Paul Nicklen showed the world an unexpected and unprecedented side to this creature with a series of incredible photographs.

The leopard seal is a beautiful animal, living in an unspoiled and special part of the world, and something I hope I have the opportunity to photograph again and again.

 

Neko Harbour, January 2013

As we approached this leopard seal in a zodiac, it reminded us who is boss with a glimpse of those sharp teeth.

Zodiac Cruising - Neko Harbour, Antarctica

Pleneau Bay, January 2015

A leopard seal resting on an ice floe in Pleneau Bay, ignoring our presence completely.

Leopard Seal_Pleneau Bay_Antarctica_Kellie Netherwood-2-2

Pleneau Bay, January 2015

As we approached in our zodiac, this leopard seal briefly raised its head to check us out.

Leopard Seal_Pleneau Bay_Antarctica_Kellie Netherwood-5

Neko Harbour, January 2013

Whilst most leopard seals we saw on ice floes were resting and uninterested in our presence, this one was a little more curious.

Zodiac Cruising - Neko Harbour, Antarctica

Pleneau Bay, January 2013

Out of the frame of this shot is another leopard seal resting on the ice floe.  This one, who had circled our zodiac a few minutes earlier, decided to take a closer look at this potential piece of real estate.  Minutes later he was chased away by the existing occupant.  Leopard seals tend to be solitary creatures and don’t like to share!

Pleneau Bay, Antarctica

Pleneau Bay, January 2013

After finishing its nap, this leopard seal was getting ready to slide back into water in Pleneau Bay.

Pleneau Bay, Antarctica

Cape Lookout, Elephant Island, January 2015

Predator and prey co-existing on land.  In water, the leopard seal has the upper hand but on land these chinstrap penguins did not feel threatened.

Leopard Seal and Penguins_Cape Lookout_Elephant Island_Antarctica_Kellie Netherwood

Neko Harbour, January 2013

Getting another glimpse of those sharp teeth.

Zodiac Cruising - Neko Harbour, Antarctica

Cape Lookout, Elephant Island – January 2013

This leopard seal was swimming around our zodiac, seemingly just as curious about us as we were about it.

Leopard Seal_Cape Lookout_Elephant Island_Antarctica_Kellie Netherwood

Pleneau Bay, January 2013

As we approached this leopard seal in the zodiac, it immediately raised its head for a closer look.

Pleneau Bay, Antarctica

 

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

Comments

  1. Allan Seabrook says:

    Stunning photographs! Thanks for sharing!

  2. A nice series

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