Crabeater Seals (Lobodon Carcinophagus) are the most numerous of all seals with estimates at a global population of between 12-16 million, though the Antarctic Pack Ice Seal Survey suggests their numbers could be a lot lower. Their distribution varies from season to season, depending on where krill, a major component of their diet, is to be found. Their heavy dependence on krill could become a problem and global warming does play a worrying factor in their future survival. These seals are under the protection of the Antarctic Treaty and the Convention for the Protection of Antarctic Seals. A ban on the use of pesticides and drilling for oil or gas in the Antarctic also lends them some additional protection.
CRABEATER SEAL BREEDING HABITS
Crabeater Seals will haul out onto the pack ice in early spring where they form small family groups consisting of a male, female and pup. They will remain together for approximately three weeks or until such stage as the pup is weaned.
During this time, the males become exceptionally guarded over their female and will not tolerate any impostor chancing his luck. If they become severely agitated, males will begin foaming at the mouth and have even been known to chase off predatory Leopard Seals!
Peak pupping period tends to run during the months of September – October with pups weighing in at an average of around 30kg and measuring 1.2m in length.
Sexual dimorphism is not particularly pronounced in this species with both males and females weighing roughly 220kg and measuring around 2.4m in length. Females can be slightly chubbier, but a little extra padding never hurts when you have icy water to contend with. Although they can live to a ripe old age of 40years, the average lifespan is around 22 years.
Facial scars and on the flippers are on account of wounds inflicted while mating. Long parallel scars, particularly on their flanks, are from Leopard seal attacks.
Despite the Crabeater males aggression, Leopard Seals will prey on as many as 80% of all newborns.
Aside from Leopard Seals, these animals are also preyed upon by Killer Whales.
The success of the species is due to their dental adaptation which allows them to siphon krill out the water. See image below.
This species has benefited from industrial whaling. The removal of baleen whales has led to an explosion of krill availability, allowing these seals to literally feast themselves continuously.
Crabeater Seals have been known to travel much further inland than any other species of seal. Remains have been found as far as 100km from the water.
They can move surprisingly fast over land, with speeds of up to 26km/h being recorded. They achieve this by employing a “snake like” movement. When swimming, they travel at a far more sedate pace, cruising along at around 12km/h.