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Crabeater Seal

Scientific Classification

Common Name
crabeater seal
Genus Species
Lobodon carcinophagus

Fast Facts

The crabeater seal is a slender, streamlined seal with silvery gray to whitish fur and a long, slightly upturned snout. Younger crabeater seals have small specks and webs of brown or dark gray over much of their dorsal side. Pups are grayish brown with very light scattered spots.
Both males and females may reach 2.6 m (8.53 ft.) in length
Weigh up to 225 kg (496 lbs.): large individuals up to 300 kg (660 lbs.).
Feeds primarily on Antarctic Krill, Euphausia superba, which accounts for over 90% of their diet, with the remainder made up of fish and squid.
Approximately 11 months for total gestation, with a 2.7 month period of delayed implantation: newborns are 1.1 m (3.6 ft.) and 20 to 40 kg (44 to 88 lbs.)
Estral Period
Typically 4 days after weaning
Nursing Duration
Approximately 14 to 28 days (average 17 days)
Sexual Maturity
2 to 6 years: the mean age of sexual maturity in females varies from 2.5 to 4.2 years and these variations may be related to changes in food abundance.
Life Span
May be up to 39 years
The distribution of the crabeater seal is tied to seasonal fluctuations of the pack ice. They can be found right up to the coast and ice shelves of Antarctica, as far south as the Bay of Whales (Lindsey 1938), during late summer ice break-up. They occur in greatest numbers in the seasonally shifting pack ice surrounding the Antarctic continent. As vagrants they travel as far north as New Zealand and the southern coasts of Africa, Australia and South America.
Inhabits pack ice
Global: The most recent available data, obtained during the multi-national effort conducted under the umbrella of the Antarctic Pack Ice Seal program in the late 1990s, provided a population size estimate of approximately 8,000,000 animals for the area surveyed. Considering that major areas of the pack ice around the continent were not surveyed, there is a large uncertainty regarding the actual population size of the species. Yet, crabeater seals are considered to be one of the most abundant seal species (if not the most abundant) and one of the most numerous large mammals on Earth.
IUCN: Least concern
CITES: Not listed
USFWS: Not listed

Fun Facts

  1. Crabeater seals belong to the scientific order Pinnipedia, which includes seals, sea lions, and walruses.
  2. Seals differ from sea lions in a number of ways, including having no visible earflaps.
  3. Antarctic seals tend to have longer, more pointed foreflippers than northern phocids.
  4. Their unique teeth allow crabeater seals to strain krill out of seawater.
  5. Crabeater seals are unique among phocids in that this species forms family groups consisting of an adult female, her pup, and an adult male. The male usually joins a pregnant female shortly before or after the pup's birth and remains with the female until after the pup is weaned and mating occurs. During the time a family group is together, the adult male defends the female and pup from other adult males.

Ecology and Conservation

Many crabeater seals often bear scars from leopard seal and, to a lesser extent, from killer whale attacks. Mortality is high in the first year, possibly reaching 80%. Much of this mortality is attributed to Leopard Seal predation, and up to 78% of Crabeaters that survive through their first year have injuries and scars from Leopard Seal attacks.

Scientists consider crabeater seals to be the most abundant of any pinniped species.

The crabeater seal is protected by the Antarctic Treaty and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals and any future commercial harvest would have to be regulated through these international agreements.


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