The leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx, or pakaka) is a creature of the Antarctic pack ice. Immature seals in particular also frequent the waters around subantarctic islands as they migrate north during winter.
Vagrants haul out (rest) sporadically on New Zealand beaches, particularly along the Otago coastline. They are fearsome predators capable of killing penguins and even other seals with the same ease as the fish and krill they also take.
The sleek leopard seal is distinguished by a square, solid head resembling that of Tyrannosaurus rex, an olive green back, and a pale belly with dark spots – like a leopard. Unusually for seals, the females are larger than the males, measuring up to 3.4 metres long, while males are around 3 metres. Weights vary from 300 to 500 kilograms.
Population and breeding
Largely protected from hunting by their isolation amongst the pack ice, leopard seals may number anything from a quarter to half a million worldwide.
They breed around Antarctica, including the Ross Dependency (the New Zealand-administered sector), along with Weddell seals, crabeater seals and Ross seals. Little is known of their breeding habits, but it seems that mating takes place in the water, and pups are born on the ice from November to December.