Leopard seal visits East London, South Africa


The first record of a leopard seal along the coast of South Africa was 68 years ago north of East London (documented during the month of September 1946 approxiamately 60 km’s north of the city). The fatigued juvenile leopard  seal pictured below was documented by museum scientist Kevin Cole west of East London on a calm Sunday afternoon (3 August 2014). This is a 6th record of the species for SA and the third for the region. The last leopard seal to visit our area (which unfortunately died) was observed by Carolyn Stewardson at Bonza Bay, East London (9th August 1994).


Museum scientist Kevin Cole with the leopard seal before he carefully dragged it to the surf zone. After gaining buoyancy the seal swam out to sea.

These seals are solitary and live on the outer areas of the Antarctic ice pack. They have a very square muzzle and a wide gape (noted in the illustration above). Reaching a maximum length of 3.8 m (females) with males being slightly smaller at 3.3 m. Leopards seals along with killer whales are the top predators in the Antarctic food chain. They are best know for predating on penguins but are opportunistic and feed on krill,  fish, seabirds and other seals.

Siani Tinley of the East London Aquarium alerted the museum to the haul out and commented on the leopard seal record of 1994 (the remains have been accessioned in the Port Elizabeth Museum). A report was sent to the museum on Saturday afternoon (2/Aug/2014) from Carl Vernon stating that a Mr Jack Hugo had spotted a seal near the Lifesavers Shack (Eastern Beach, East London). This seal could not be found and it is presumed to be the same one reported on here.

The remaining records of leopard seals along the SA coast are:

23 october 1969 at Hout Bay, 17 August 2005 at Hout Bay and a record 4 years ago 15 July 2010 at ‘Die Dam’ in the Western Cape.

The breeding season for leopard seals is fom November to January and the cows give birth on the pack-ice during September to January (peaking in November to December). Lactation lasts amonth and their lifespan is unknown.

Graham Brusson (L) and Andrew Gradwell (SAPS) are thanked for assisting in recording the specimen for science

Graham Brusson (L) and Andrew Gradwell (SAPS) are thanked for assisting in recording the specimen for science

Reference: Whales, Dolphins and Seals by Hadoram Shirihai and Brett Jarrett (2006).


About East London Museum Science

Conservation Biologist East London Museum South Africa
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