Killer Instinct: Are Leopard Seals Dangerous?

are leopard seals dangerous

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Leopard seals are apex predators that can grow as large as 3.5 meters in length and weigh an impressive 500kg.

These seals feed on a diet of mostly krill, squid, octopuses, penguins, and even other seals. They are armed with a mouth full of long, sharp teeth that they use to tear their prey to shreds before eating it.

In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at the leopard seal and answer a question that many want to know before paying one a visit. Are Leopard seals dangerous?

Yes, these seals are dangerous as they are more than capable of killing a human. The good news is that they primarily live in the Antarctic, so coming across one is rare.

Are Leopard Seals Dangerous To Humans?

Despite Leopard seals living in the Antarctic regions, they do still come face to face with humans now and again.

These interactions can be very dangerous and have even resulted in human deaths. Leopard seals, although cute in appearance are bigger than most big cats and heavier than a bear.

They are the only seals that hunt and kill other warm-blooded prey, and they are capable of swimming 38km/h in the ocean.

You really wouldn’t want to find yourself in the ocean alongside a Leopard seal as this could be a disaster.

Has A Leopard Seal Ever Killed Anyone?

It is rare for Leopard seals to attack humans, but it has happened in the past which is why it’s so important to be cautious around these animals.

A British Scientist Kirsty Brown, 28, was snorkeling off the coast of Antarctica when she was struck by a Leopard seal and then dragged to the icy depths before she drowned.

There was a 30-year investigation and inquiry into Leopard seals after Kirsty’s death, which found that these seals are more inquisitive than aggressive.

Paul Nicklen, a photographer encountered this in 2006, when a female Leopard seal kept bringing him increasingly worn-out dead penguins, which he interprets as the seal trying to teach him how to hunt.

In 1985, Gareth Wood, a Scottish explorer was almost dragged off the ice into the water by a Leopard seal, luckily Gareth’s companions managed to get the seal to release its grip by kicking it in the head multiple times.

The jaws of a Leopard seal are capable of locking to stop prey from escaping, so when a Leopard seal locks onto a human, it can be incredibly hard to get the seal to release its grip.

Like some other seal species, Leopard seals will try to chase and bite intruders when they are around human populations, authorities tend to warn people to keep their distance around these seals.

Another example of a Leopard seal attack was in the early 1900s when Major Thomas Orde-Lees was chased across the ice by a sea leopard and described as a ‘bloodthirsty monster’.

Why Are Leopard Seals Dangerous?

Leopard seals are dangerous for a number of reasons, such as their curiosity toward humans. They will often swim right up to humans, checking them out and trying to get a closer look.

If they don’t like the look of someone or feel threatened, they make feel like they need to defend themselves which can be a very dangerous spot to be in.

These seals have large, sharp teeth that they use to lock onto prey such as penguins. Once in the grip of a Leopard seal, it’s incredibly difficult to get it to let go.

In the case of Gareth Wood that we discussed above, his companions could only get the seal to release its grip by repeatedly kicking it in the head with their crampon ice boots on.

Another danger with Leopard seals is how they hunt and stalk their prey. When these seals hunt penguins, they hide under the surface or behind ice caps, keeping a close eye on their prey.

They know that the penguins need to enter the water to feed and lurk in the icy waters waiting until they do so, before striking and ultimately killing their prey.

Leopard seals use the element of surprise to hunt, and therefore could easily do the same with humans instead of penguins, which makes them deadly predators to be aware of in Antarctica.

Are Leopard Seals Aggressive?

Leopard seals are solitary animals that live and hunt alone. They are known to be aggressive towards one another, particularly around food.

These seals are not particularly social and have even been known to eat other seals. However, in rare sightings Leopard seals have been seen working together to hunt prey.

This is usually only seen in social animals such as Orca and Wolves, so maybe these seals are learning to be cooperative in hunts for better success rates.

Leopard seals have been seen sharing food with each other in kleptoparasitism, which is usually seen in sea birds and scavenger animals.

As penguins can often live in colonies, it may be more energy-efficient for the seal to share food instead of having to hunt their own each time they feed.

What Do Leopard Seals Eat?

Leopard seals have a varied diet, they feed on mostly krill, squid, birds, fish, penguins, octopuses, and sometimes other seals.

These animals are opportunistic feeders that will hunt lots of different prey. In the Antarctic, food can be hard to come by sometimes so these seals will feed on whatever is available.

It’s thought that krill is a favorite food of the Leopard seal. They have evolved specialized teeth that can strain out tiny prey from the surrounding water as they move.

Much like how baleen whales filter out their food, Leopard seals do the same which proves highly effective when consuming small prey such as krill and shrimp.

Final Thoughts

Are leopard seals dangerous? Absolutely! These animals are top predators of the Antarctic and are more than capable of killing humans.

Although they may have a cute and cuddly appearance, they also have a set of large, sharp teeth and an attitude to match.

They are formidable hunters that can make quick work of penguins by catching them off guard.

If you do ever find yourself close to a Leopard seal in the wild, make sure you do not approach it and stay at a safe distance, these seals can be incredibly dangerous and are not to be taken lightly.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post and I hope you’ve learned why Leopard seals are dangerous today.

Feel free to stick around to learn more about seals and other marine life and share this post if you have found it of value.