We invite you to meet the crabeater Seals or Lobodon Carcinophaga in scientific terms. These pinniped mammals belong to the group of true seals and have a circumpolar distribution around the coast of Antarctica.
These adorable creatures along with the Ross Seals, the Leopard seals and the Weddell seals, make up the group of Lobodontine seals which are characterized by having adaptations in their teeth, including the lobes and cusps, which are useful for removing the smaller prey from the water (the name «Lobodontini «, meaning «tooth lobe «).
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Main Characteristics of the Crabeater Seals
The crabeater seal is the most abundant seal species on Earth and it is believed that its population is even bigger to the total population of the rest of the seals as a whole.
Despite their names, these seals don´t feed on crabs, (there are no crabs in Antarctic waters), but they consume more krill (crustaceans similar to shrimp) than any other seal species on the planet.
Regarding its anatomy, the adult specimens are relatively slender and pale, with an average length of 2.5 m and a weight of 200 kg. However it is good to emphasize that the females are a bit larger.
The crabeater seals´ skulls and snouts, are longer than those of other Antarctic seals, and give their face a dog-like appearance. Their teeth are very different and are considered the most complex among all mammal species.
Each tooth has small bony protuberances with small spaces between them, so when they close the jaw they can suck the water to strain the krill.
The color of their skin fluctuates throughout the year, depending on the molt. After it, their backs are brown or dark gray in some cases and their bellies are of a blond or pale color.
The Crabeater seals molt their fur between the months of January and February. The older specimens become progressively paler and may appear almost white, which is why some naturalists gave them the name «white seal» at the end of the 19th century.
Adult specimens often have severe scars, as they have survived attacks by leopard seals and killer whales, especially when they are young.
Crabeater Seals: Reproduction
Crabeater seals are reproduced in Antarctica in the ice. Like most seals, they breed during the first months of spring from October to December. They reach sexual maturity between 3-4 years old. Women are more successful with childbirth after 5 years of age.Unlike many other seals that give birth in colonies, Crabeater seals go to the ice to give birth alone.
Then, the male protects the female and the puppy. At birth, Crabeater seals weigh approximately 44 pounds (20kg) and grow more than five times in size to 240 pounds (110kg) due to weaning. The puppies are born with a «lanugo» layer of light brown color, which accompanies them until they make the first molt after weaning.
Females fast during the lactation period, losing up to 50 percent of their body weight. In turn, males also lose a significant proportion of their weight, when they help their partner and their offspring, and protect them from other surrounding rivals. Most Crabeater seals live for 20 to 25 years.
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What do Crabeater Seals Feed on?
Their diet consists of krill in 98%, unlike other species of seals that have a more varied diet. This is due to the way their teeth are shaped, which don´t allow them to capture large pieces. These creatures can dive for 16 hours a day, in brief 5-minute dives to search for food.
They feed on massive swarms of krill, with their mouths open, sifting the seawater through their complex teeth. Most of the seven species of Antarctic krill emerge to the ocean surface at night, and retire to deeper waters during the day.
Therefore the Crabeater seals have adapted to this behavior, and feed mainly at night. Threats to Antarctic krill populations due to overfishing and climate change can have a future impact on the Crabeater seals population.
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Crabeater Seals’ Habitat:
The Antarctica is the most common habitat of these seals. Data indicate that its population has been distributed in this area for about 15 to 25 million years. But they have also been distributed in areas of South America, parts of Australia and in turn in New Zealand, in a smaller proportion.
These pinniped are characterized as solitary animals and live on ice, and are known for diving during long periods of time and use the holes in the ice made by the Weddell seals to breath.
Crabeater seals are believed to migrate in search of food during the Antarctic winter, but their movement pattern is still unknown.
Crabeater Seals Conservation Status:
It is estimated that the Crabeater seals´ population is around 50 million of specimens, representing this way the largest in relation to any other seals species. All seal hunting is regulated in the Antarctic region and oil extraction is prohibited, which favors their conservation.
Environmental pollution, krill overfishing and climate change are rapidly and dramatically affecting the oceans and thus represent the greatest threat to this species.