The seals in Antarctica were largely responsible for attracting explorers to the continent, as many Antarctic bound expeditions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were searching for new seal populations. During these centuries, the seals were highly coveted for their fur, their skins, and their oil. Times have changed, however, and today the seals in Antarctica enjoy a relatively charmed life. While a small quota of Antarctic seals are still taken in the name of science, the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals has done well to do away with hunting, which has helped the seals to get their population numbers up. There's a lot to eat for the seals in Antarctica, and since they don't have many native predators to worry about, they have it pretty easy these days.
Antarctica supports a larger seal population than the Arctic does. This has everything to do with the rich food supply and the lack of predators in the Antarctic. Six different kinds of seals can be found south of the Antarctic Convergence, and four of these species are true Antarctic species. The true Antarctic species include leopard, Weddell, Ross, and crabeater seals. The remaining two species, which do venture as far south as Antarctica on occasion, include rur and southern elephant seals. Generally speaking, the fur and southern elephant seals prefer the warmer subantarctic seas and the more northerly islands of the Southern Ocean. While all of these seal species spend the bulk of their time in the water, they do venture onto land to breed.
The leopard seals in Antarctica are just one of the seal species that you can expect to see on your visit, especially if you visit during the austral summer. It's important to note that the austral summer, which is summertime in the southern hemisphere, coincides with wintertime in the northern hemisphere. During the austral winter, the Leopard seals in Antarctica tend to head north to subantarctic islands, which include those Southern Ocean islands that are found southeast of Tasmania and south of New Zealand. Leopard seals are the most ferocious of the seals in Antarctica, and they are even known to feed on other seal species, which not something that the other species practice. The leopard seals in Antarctica can measure up to ten feet in length and top out at around 750 pounds, and while they eat other seals on occasion, their diet is mostly comprised of penguins, squid, fish, and krill.
Antarctica fur seals, much like southern elephant seals, are mostly found on subantarctic islands such as South Georgia Island. They are being spotted with greater regularity on the Antarctic Peninsula, however, which means that you are likely to see some on your Antarctica visit. The Antarctic fur seals are aptly named. In the 1800s, they were hunted to the brink of extinction, and it was their fur that the hunters were mainly after. Thankfully, these seals have rebounded dramatically, which is mainly tied to conservation efforts and the healthy abundance of krill that can be found in the Southern Ocean. The Antarctica fur seals are typically six to seven feet in length and can weigh up to 250 pounds.
While the southern elephant seals are the largest seals in Antarctica, the other species can get quite big as well. Like the Leopard seals, the native Weddell seals are quite large, and thus hard to miss. These seals can measure ten feet in length and weigh up to 1,000 pounds, and they mostly eat krill, squid, and fish. Weddell seals are relatively placid, and they like to hang out in large groups. According to many, they are the most attractive seals in Antarctica, which has a lot to do with the fact that they almost always appear to be smiling. Around 800,000 Weddell seals can be found in Antarctica, and they mostly stick to the McMurdo Sound, which is about 800 miles from the South Pole. When you're not checking out the seals in McMurdo Sound, you can keep an eye out for whales and other marine creatures, not to mention cruise along the Ross Ice Shelf, which is bound to impress.
Most of the seals in Antarctica are easy to find and thus spot, though that's not exactly the case with Ross seals. Before 1970, only around 100 people had ever laid eyes on a Ross seal, and they are still relatively elusive to this day. A solitary species, the Ross seals tend to reside in places that are surrounded by heavy pack ice. This has a lot to do with the fact that sightings are relatively rare. If it wasn't for all the pack ice that these seals hide behind, they would otherwise be relatively easy to spot. That's because they can measure up to twelve feet in length and weigh up to 1,000 pounds. All of the seals in Antarctica tend to be quite large, and while you've likely seen seals at your local zoo, there's nothing that compares to actually seeing them in the wild. Wildlife viewing is big in Antarctica, and in addition to seals, many visitors come to see the penguins, the whales, and the numerous species of birds that call the continent home.