Sea leopards

February 16, 2011

If we exclude the Orca, which roams all over the world and is not especially associated with Antarctica, then the most fearsome creature inhabiting the Antarctic waters is the Sea Leopard, sometimes also called the Leopard Seal.

The Sea Leopard, bane of Antarctic bathers. (Source: National Geographic)

The Sea Leopard is a nasty piece of work. It grows to a size of up to 4 m (12 ft) and weighs as much as 600 kg (1300 lb), which makes it way bigger than a regular leopard. It has enormous, sharp teeth, and lots of them. It can open its jaw to an angle of 160°, as shown, the better to swallow large objects like penguins, seals, and human children.

I am told that when travelling in regions frequented by sea leopards, it is recommended that one wear sharp, ice-climbing crampons and carry a sharp stick so as to kick and stab the sea leopard if it attacks, and that one keep a whistle handy in order to summon help from one’s fellows.

During Shackleton’s Endurance expedition, one of the men was pursued across the ice by a ferocious sea leopard. The story is told succinctly in Shackleton’s book South!:

One day a huge sea-leopard climbed on to the floe and attacked one of the men. Wild, hearing the shouting, ran out and shot it.

When they opened the sea leopard they found in its stomach dozens of freshly eaten fish, as well as several crampons, a handful of whistles, and a long, sharp stick.

7 Responses to “Sea leopards”

  1. Jim Says:

    Why does that first photo make me think ‘COOOOKIE!’

  2. cburrell Says:

    I feel confident saying that you would not survive in Antarctica.

  3. Janet Says:

    Poor penguin! I kind of like this picture:
    It looks like a scene from a movie when the big evil guy comes to town.


  4. KathyB Says:

    Actually, my own son tends to pose similarly for photos lately. Apparently for him, the word “smile” means “show me your tonsils”

  5. cburrell Says:

    I can well imagine, Kathy. I believe that if your son were to lie prone on the Antarctic ice, making that face, the penguins would give him a wide berth, just as in Janet’s photo.

  6. Jim Says:

    Craig — on those days when I take cookies to work, I have yet to suffer from a sea leopard attack. It is much more convienent to distract by throwing cookies into their maw than with crampons and ice picks, as you suggest. It also seems an effective way to satiate the minature sea leopard that haunts our house making similar faces. I suggest you try it with yours sometimes.

    I’m greatly enjoying the series, btw. A real highlight of my day.

  7. cburrell Says:

    I amend my judgement on your survivability, Jim. That is a most ingeniuos tactic.

    Thanks for the encouragement. Only one more week!

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