As its name suggests, this seal is a predator. It is the only Antarctic seal to typically prey upon warm-blooded creatures. A portion of its diet consists of penguins
, but it also eats fish, krill, and sometimes the young of other seals. The leopard seal has long, pointed cusps on its molar teeth—somewhat like the crabeater seal—which enables it to filter krill from seawater in much the same way the crabeater does.
Both sexes appear very similar, although the female is slightly larger. Males are 10 feet in length while females reach about 12 feet. The typical appearance is a dark gray back shading with a lighter belly marked with leopardlike
spots. The leopard seal is a sinuous creature with an extremely powerful, snakelike head and neck.
The leopard seal has none of the cute appeal
of the other seals, but despite its ferocious reputation, there have been very few cases of unprovoked attacks upon humans. Leopard seals are solitary creatures and are rarely seen in groups. They dwell in the pack ice and along coasts during the summer, patrolling the places where penguins gather to dive into the sea. They chase and catch penguins
with great speed, often vigorously shaking and thrashing their prey to turn it inside out, exposing the meat and making it easier to eat.
Like the other seals—apart from the fur seal—they mate and raise their pups on pack ice. Young are born from November to December and are weaned after two months.
Though mainly residing in waters surrounding the Antarctic continent
, some individuals reside near the South Georgia Islands during the winter, and a few leopard seals have been spotted off the coasts of southern Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and South America.