A review of leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) births and pups using a standardised age-class classification system

Despite the ecological importance of leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) as apex marine predators, little is known about their reproductive biology. To address this paucity, we reviewed leopard seal birth and pup records and applied a standardised age-class classification system to differentiate between births/newborns (offspring ≤ 14 days old) and pups (> 14 days but <  6 months old). We compiled 19 birth/newborn and 141 pup records and examined their occurrence by month, region, substrate, birth-specific attributes (i.e. birth observations, fresh umbilicus or placental), standard length, weight, presence of mother, presence of lanugo, sex, status (e.g. born alive) and fate. These records indicate that leopard seal births occur between September and December, with peak records from September to November, whilst pup records peaked between August and December. The regions with the most birth/newborn records were the sub-Antarctic Islands (31.6%) and Chile (31.6%), followed by Antarctica (15.8%), New Zealand (15.8%) and the Falkland Islands (5.3%). Pups were recorded predominantly in the sub-Antarctic Islands (54.6%), followed by the Antarctic (42.6%), Chile (2.1%) and Australia (0.7%). Whilst leopard seal birth records were predominantly on ice, they were also found on terra firma. The northernmost published leopard seal birth records occurred in New Zealand whilst the northernmost published leopard seal pup records occurred in Australia. This study contradicts the long-standing hypothesis that leopard seals only give birth on Antarctic pack ice, and instead, here we indicate that 84.2% and 57.4% of collated leopard seal birth and pup records, respectively, occur outside of Antarctica. Our records illustrate the importance of northern regions as part of the leopard seal’s range. We emphasise the need to conduct research focused on the reproductive biology of this keystone species throughout its range and that future management of leopard seal populations should also consider their northern range.


Publication status:
Authors: van der Linde, Krista, Visser, Ingrid N., Bout, Rick, Krause, Douglas J., Forcada, Jaume ORCIDORCID record for Jaume Forcada, Siniff, Donald, Stone, Sheridan, Fyfe, Jim, Fernández-Ferrada, Nicolás, Macallan, Kathryne, Savenko, Oksana, Cooper, Tracy E.

On this site: Jaume Forcada
1 July, 2022
Polar Biology / 45
Link to published article: