Stray leopard seal turns up in New Zealand | Polarjournal
A leopard seal normally found in Antarctica has turned up in Lyall Bay. (Photo: Bradley Garner)

A leopard seal normally living in Antarctica has turned up at Lyall Bay in Wellington, on New Zealand’s North Island. The seal, which normally inhabits the Antarctic pack ice, was spotted last week in the dog area of the beach. Dave Lundquist, DOC’s marine wildlife technical advisor, said the seal appeared to be in good condition and was probably just resting. He urged the public to give the animal a wide berth and to keep dogs on a leash.

Signs posted by security warn beachgoers of the leopard seal. (Photo: Nick James)

The DOC (Department of Conservation) asked people to respect and keep their distance from the leopard seal that was spotted on Lyall Bay beach.

“Although they look sluggish on the beach, leopard seals can move very fast. They are large natural enemies and the largest of their species can weigh up to 500 kg. They have a strong bite and can be more aggressive than fur seals.”

DOC advises beachgoers to stay at least 20 meters away from the leopard seal and keep their dogs under control. “Try not to startle the seal.”

The stray leopard seal is at least 3,300 km away from its original ‘home’. (Graphic: Heiner Kubny / Google Earth)

The leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) is a seal common in south polar waters. The seal got its name thanks to its spotted fur. The leopard seal lives around the Antarctic continent on the edge of the pack ice.

Besides the killer whale, the leopard seal is the dominant predator of the Southern Ocean region. Leopard seals are solitary animals. They often prey on crabeater seals, Weddell seals, fur seals and penguins. Some leopard seals specialize in hunting seals, while others hunt mainly penguins. If possible, the prey animals are taken and killed in the water with the powerful jaws.

Remarkably, the leopard seal feeds on krill, i.e. small crustaceans, and large vertebrates in equal parts. Fish, on the other hand, only play a minor role in its diet.

Between November and February, mating takes place in the water. Beyond that, males and females stay away from each other. Between September and January, the single pup is born on the pack ice and nurses for four weeks. At the age of three to four years leopard seals are sexually mature, their life expectancy is about 25 years.

The leopard seal is one of the most common seals in Antarctica and is found around the continent. The weight of a male is 270 kg, that of a female almost 400 kg. (Photo: Heiner Kubny)

Besides the crabeater seal and the Weddell seal, the leopard seal is the most common seal in Antarctica. It is estimated that 400,000 individuals live in the south polar seas. In terms of natural enemies, leopard seals only have to fear killer whales.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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