- Common Name
- Weddell seal
- Genus Species
- Leptonychotes weddellii
- The Weddell seal is a large seal with a bulky body, a relatively small head, and a short, wide snout. The adults are dark gray to brown with dark and light patches on the ventral side and silvery white dorsally. The front flippers are small relative to body size. Pups are born with light gray or occasionally golden fur.
- Male: 2.9 m (9.5 ft.)
Female: 3.3 m (10.7 ft.)
- Adults in their prime weigh 400 to 450 kg (880 to 990 lbs.), with females being somewhat heavier than males, sometimes reaching over 500 kg (1,100 lbs.) Adult female weight fluctuates dramatically during the year with significant weight loss occurring after birth and during lactation.
- Their diet primarily consists of icefish, particularly the Antarctic Silverfish which largely dominates their diet in certain areas but also includes Antarctic Toothfish, Myctophids and cephalopods.
- 11 months, including two months of delayed implantation. Newborns are about 1.5 m (4.9 ft.) long and average 29 kg (64 lbs.).
- Estral Period
- Females enter estrus approximately one week before weaning their pup, and copulation occurs underwater, where males maintain territories by controlling access to breathing holes and cracks.
- Nursing Duration
- 45 to 50 days; the mother and pup stay together for 5 or 6 weeks
- Sexual Maturity
- Male: 7 to 8 years
Female: 3 to 6 years
- Life Span
- Longevity is approximately 25 years
- Weddell seals live around Antarctica in the Southern Ocean. They are the world’s southern-most breeding mammal. A small population lives all year on South Georgia. Weddell seals are present at many islands along the Antarctic Peninsula that are seasonally ice-free. Vagrants have been recorded in many areas north of the Antarctic in South America, New Zealand and southern Australia.
- Weddell seals occur in large numbers on fast ice, right up to the shoreline of the Antarctic continent. They also occur offshore in the pack ice zone north to the seasonally shifting limits of the Antarctic Convergence.
- Global: The global population of Weddell Seals has been variously estimated at 200,000 to 1,000,000 individuals, although there is large uncertainty in these figures.
- IUCN: Least concern
CITES: Not listed
USFWS: Not listed
- Weddell seals belong to the scientific order Pinnipedia, which includes seals, sea lions, and walruses.
- Seals differ from sea lions in a number of ways, including having no visible earflaps.
- Antarctic seals tend to have longer, more pointed foreflippers than northern phocids.
- Weddell seals are named for Captain James Weddell, an explorer in the 1820s whose book described and illustrated Weddell seals.
- Weddell seals have the southernmost distribution of any pinniped.
- Weddell seals can reach depths of over 600 m (1,950 ft.), and can undertake dives of at least 82 minutes, feeding primarily at depths of 100 to 350 m (325 to 1,138 ft.), with a diurnal feeding pattern.
Ecology and Conservation
Weddell seals do not migrate very far and will often be found within a few miles of where they were born.
Weddell seals that remain in fast ice areas abrade and grind the ice to maintain access to and from the water. They bite at the ice and then rapidly swing the head from side to side to grind away the ice with their teeth. Such behavior, though, comes at a cost, as seals living in areas where extensive grinding of ice is necessary have accelerated wearing down of their teeth and decreased life expectancy.
Although Weddell seals in fast ice areas are relatively protected, animals in the pack ice are vulnerable to predation by Killer Whales and Leopard Seals (Stirling 1969a, Visser et al. 2008).
Antarctic seals, including the Crabeater, Leopard, Weddell, Ross, Southern elephant, and Antarctic fur seals, are protected by the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals.
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