Antarctica Wildlife

Seals and Sea Lions

which seals and sea lions can be found in antarctica?

Seals and sea lions are one of Antarctica's big attractions and spotting them during expeditions to the continent is very likely. Read on to discover the species you are likely to spot on your journey into the extraordinary...

Leopard Seal 

The leopard seal is named for its black-spotted coat, similar to that of the famous big cat, though the seal's coat is gray rather than golden in color. Leopard seals are fierce predators, the most formidable hunters of all the seals and the only ones that feed on warm-blooded prey. Every austral summer, leopard seals wait in shallow water off major penguin breeding colonies to capture newly fledged birds going to sea for the first time.They have a surprisingly diverse diet consisting of other seals, penguins, fish and krill. Leopard seals have been seen as far north as the coasts of Australia, South America, and South Africa however their true home is circumpolar Antarctica. Read Andy Rouse's blog on leopard seal photography.

Antarctic Fur Seal 

The Antarctic fur seals are the only eared seals that commonly live in Antarctic waters, identified by their visible earflap, dark coarse fur, and their ability to arrange themselves into a standing position. When not breeding on land, the Antarctic fur seal leads a largely pelagic existence, pursuing its prey wherever it is abundant. During the breeding season they primarily reside on sheltered rocky, sandy and gravelly beaches on sub-Antarctic islands with lush tussock grass clumps. 

Fur seals feed on moderately-sized fish, birds (including penguins), squid and krill - with krill making up the majority of the diet. In one year an individual fur seal will eat as much as a ton of krill.

Southern Elephant Seal

Southern elephant seals live in the sub-Antarctic and Antarctic waters that feature brutally cold conditions but are rich in the fish, squid, and the other marine foods they enjoy. Instantly recognisable for the trunk-like inflatable snouts of the males, which they use to make extremely loud roaring noises, especially in the mating season. The largest of all seals, males can be 20 feet long and up to 8,800 pounds, with females 8 to 10 times smaller. They migrate in search of food, spending months at sea and often diving deep to forage, often reaching depths of 400 to 1,500 metres. They return to their rookeries in winter to breed and give birth. Though both male and female elephant seals spend time at sea, their migration routes and feeding habits differ: males follow a more consistent route while females vary their routes in pursuit of moving prey. See Andy Rouse's incredible elephant seal image and read his blog about photographing this unique species.

Crabeater Seal

The crabeater seals are the most abundant seal species on Earth, with around 30 million living in Antarctica’s icy oceans, and can be found in the circumpolar pack ice at the edge of the Antarctic continent and adjacent islands. This ‘pack ice’ is year round in Antarctica, acting like an enormous boundary, advancing and retreating with the seasons. Compared to their cousins, they are relatively slender and pale, with an average length of 7–8 feet and weight of 450 pounds. They are surprisingly agile on land, their movements often appearing snake-like, especially as they slip from solid blocks of ice into the cold Antarctic water. They will sometimes spend 16 hours a day diving for krill, staying underwater for about 5 minutes at a time.

Weddell Seal

Weddell seals spend much of their time below the Antarctic ice, avoiding their main predators, orcas and leopard seals and can dive up to 2,000 feet down and stay under for up to 45 minutes. As with any seal, they must come up to breath so if a natural opening or ‘crack’ cannot be found, they often use their teeth to open and maintain air holes in the ice. They have the southernmost range of any seal, but find the chilly waters rich with their favourite prey, including cod and silverfish as well as small crustaceans, octopuses, and other marine creatures. They do not migrate often and are commonly found within a few miles of their birthplace.

South American Fur Seal

South American fur seals have a body length between 1.4 and 2 metres and weigh between 30 and 200kgs and can be found around the coast of South America. As males mature they develop a thick mane on their neck and shoulders. They feed on a variety of fish, squid, crabs and shrimps and also occasionally on sea birds, such as penguins. In the breeding season, this species prefers rocky coasts, where adults haul out onto the rocks. When not at their breeding colonies, these superbly adapted marine mammals spend their time hundreds of miles from land chasing prey. 

South American Sea Lion

The full mane of a male southern sea lion gives rise to their lion-like appearance, and also to their other common name of maned seal. They are the most sexually dimorphic of the sea lions, with the males approximately three times the size of females. They live along the shorelines and beaches of South America. They mainly feed on a variety of fish, squid and octopus and occasionally on young South American fur seals and sea birds, such as penguins. The mating season begins in August when the males come ashore to establish and defend territories before the females arrive.

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