Weddell Seals: All you need to know about these lovely creatures.

We invite you to learn about the Weddell seals, which are also known by their scientific name Leptonychotes weddellii. These unique creatures are carnivorous mammals, belonging to the pinniped superfamily.

It should be noted that the name of this species was attributed, in honor to the english navigator and seal hunter Sir James Weddell (24 August 1787 – 9 September 1834) who discovered it in the year 1820 during an expedition from the United Kingdom to the Weddell Sea commanded by him.

Weddell Seals: Main Characteristics

Weddell seals are big animals. Males measure from 2.5 to 2.9 meters long and females reach 3.5 meters. They weigh between 400 and 600 kg. As for their fur, adults have shades that vary between dark grey and light gray with a sort of moles or darker areas, in the form of spots.An important aspect regarging their fur, is that it changes when the seal is aging. In the first moments of their lives, these beautiful mammals present lighter shades, which change until they become darker when they grow. As for their head, it is small in relation to the body size and its color is usually mottled grey and black on the back.

The Weddell seals´ body is perfectly adapted to the cold temperature, because their organs are covered by thick layers of fat.  Thanks to this trait, the Weddell seals have the capacity to submerge at great depths of up to 600 meters. Once reached this depth they can remain underwater for up to one hour since they are also able to hold their breath and their muscles have high concentrations of myoglobin.

weddell seals : mother and pup

Weddell Seals: Common Behavior

According to various researches related to the life style of this species, these animals tend to live in herds and develop in a shared environment with their fellows. However in terms of direct physical contact they are not as sociable, since they usually avoid it altogether, especially when they reach adulthood. Moreover, these seals don´t have migratory habits, and when they carry out some considerable displacement, it is mainly due to changes in the conditions of the ice in the area where they inhabit.

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Weddel Seals Reproduction

Weddel seals usually give birth to their offspring at the end of the year between September and November. However, this aspect varies somewhat depending on the latitude in which they inhabit, since those specimens that live in the lower latitudes usually give birth before.

Mating is carried out only under water. It begins when the male mounts the female and holds her with his front flippers,biting her softly and repeatedly on her neck during copulation. As for the Weddell Seal pups, they  weigh about 30 kg at birth and are characterized by a grey fur, which after 3 to 4 weeks becomes darker. They learn to swim and crawl out of the water at age week and reach sexual maturity after three years. During the breeding, the males defend underwater their territories especially of other males, also taking care of the accesses to the breathing holes and the females. Both male and female seals emit vocalizations to establish their territories.

What the Weddell Seals Feed On?

The Weddell seals´ diet is made up of different types of fish and other animals such as squid, codfish and Antarctic blennies. They are really quiet seals that can be found in different groups and they don´t usually move too much to look for food, but in the case of being very hungry they will displace as far as necessary to find it.

Weddell Seals: Habitat and Distribution

These creatures have a circumpolar distribution and are coastal, remaining all the time in icebergs and they venture only up to 15 to 20 km in the Antarctic Ocean to feed themselves. They are usually easy to find in the small islands located in these areas, although there is also a record of Weddell seals on ice-free islands on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Although there is little information available, there are records that ensure the presence of weddell seals in South America, some areas  of New Zealand, southern Australia and South Georgia. They are characterized by positioning themselves on the icebergs for long periods of time to rest and shed their fur, and in the case of the females to breed. Even when they are underwater they tend to stay close to their breeding colonies generally in the range of 50 to 100 km, although occasional migrations of several hundred kilometers are carried out, especially by the younger seals. Since the Weddell Seals breathe air and live under the ice, they have to breathe through cracks and holes in the ice sheets which they find in large quantities during the summer months. However, during the winter these openings freeze and the Weddell Seals need to use their canine and incisors teeth to scrape the ice again, and thus maintain holes to be able to breathe. The maintenance of these breathing holes results in the wear of their teeth, and even in some cases they become unable to feed or even to keep the holes open.

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