Crabeater Seal

Crabeater seals may well be the most abundant of all pinnipeds, and in their remote habitat they have few enemies other than killer whales. Capable of rapid movement over the ice, the crabeater seal thrusts with alternate forelimbs and the pelvis, and it is thought to achieve speeds of as much as 15 1/2 mph (25 km/h).

Crabeater seals are found mainly on the pack ice and barren islands that surround the continental landmass of Antarctica. They are also occasionally found farther north on ocean islands and on the coasts of southern Africa, South America and Australia. Crabeater seals are generally solitary and it is single seals that are spotted along the northern edge of its range. On the Antarctic ice, the seals may gather into large groups during the breeding season.

The fur of the crabeater seal changes from dark brown to blonde throughout the year. The winter coat is dark when it grows in autumn but becomes paler from then on. The species is also called the white Antarctic seal because of its pale fur.

Despite its name, the crabeater seal never eats crabs. Instead it is a krill eater. It feeds by swimming through a school of krill with its mouth open. It sucks the small animals into its mouth from a distance of about lm (3.25 ft). Crabeater seals also eat small fish, choosing ones that are small enough to swallow whole. They are quite deep divers and get most of their food in the first 30 m (100 ft) of water.

Crabeater seals are generally solitary creatures but sometimes gather in large herds of more than 1,000 individuals. The largest aggregations occur during the calving and breeding season, which takes place on the pack ice in spring - October in Antarctica. Mating takes place after pups are weaned at the age of three weeks. The pup is well developed at birth and suckles for about 5 weeks.

Distribution: Antarctica and surrounding landmasses including the southern Cape of Africa on rare occasions.

Habitat: Shallow waters; thick pack ice.

Food: Krill.

Size: 2 - 2.4 m (6.5 - 7.75 ft); 200 - 300 kg (440 - 660 lb).

Maturity: 3 - 4 years but males take many more years to breed successfully.

Breeding: A single pup born in spring after a gestation of 11.5 months.

Life span: Up to 25 years, although the males tend to die younger than the females.

Status: Common.