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National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore and his wife Kathy kayaking with a leopard seal near Danco Island, Antarctica. The Leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) is the second largest species of seal in the Antarctic (after the Southern Elephant Seal), and is near the top of the Antarctic food chain. It can live twenty-six years, possibly more. Orcas are the only natural predators of leopard seals. Females are generally larger than the males. The bulls are generally 2.5 m (8.2 ft) to 3.2 m (10.5 ft) and weigh between 200 kg (441 lb) and 453.5 kg (1,000 lb), while cows are between 2.4 meters (7.9 feet) and 3.4 meters (11.2 feet) in length and weigh between 225 kg (496 lb) and 591 kg (1,303 lb). In 2003, a leopard seal dragged a snorkeling biologist underwater to her death in what was identified as the first known human fatality from a leopard seal. However, numerous examples of aggressive behavior, stalking, and attacks on humans had been previously documented. The leopard seal has also been known to snap at people's feet through holes in the ice. Model release for Joel and Kathy JS0209.


Michael Nolan