Our research project would not exist without an incredible group of leopard seals that are sharing an incredible wealth of information about their species with us. And, without further ado, here they are!
Violet is the first leopard seal we tagged as part of our research project on the feeding ecology and physiology of leopard seals. She was tagged in January, and the tag (which you can see on her back) transmits data on the seal’s location, movements, and dive behavior through satellites. Violet is an extremely large female leopard seal, weighing upwards of 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) and measuring more than 3 meters (~10 feet) in length. From Violet’s tracking data we know that she has been staying around Cape Shirreff and that she has clearly been extremely successful at feeding.
Crocus is the second leopard seal that we tagged. She is a big adult female leopard seal, with a mass of 502 kilograms (1,104 pounds) and a length just over 3 meters (~10 feet). She was also tagged in January, and from her tracking data, we know that Crocus did not stay at Cape Shirreff for very long. She briefly hauled out at Cape Shirreff when she was first tagged and has since traveled to another island in the South Shetlands chain where she has likely been feeding.
Daffodil is our third tagged leopard seal, and the first leopard seal that our entire crew (Dr. Daniel Costa, Dr. Mike Goebel, Dr. Shane Kanatous, Dr. Steve Trumble, and Sarah Kienle) worked with in April 2018. The first two seals, Violet and Crocus, were worked up by Mike in January 2018. We spotted Daffodil hauled out on a beach on the west side of the Cape only two days after we were dropped off at Cape Shirreff. It took quite a bit of hauling to get all of our gear to her, but everything went smoothly. Daffodil is a relatively small adult female leopard seal; she has a mass of 333 kilograms (733 pounds) and was nearly three meters (10 feet) long.
We spotted Shaggy hauled out at a beach relatively close to our camp. This leopard seal was smaller than a typical adult female, weighing in at only 285 kilograms (627 pounds) and a little over 2.5 meters (~8 feet) in length, so we thought that Shaggy might be a young female leopard seal. We also noticed that Shaggy was molting (hence the name) which was weird because it was late in the season, as leopard seals typically molt in mid-January to mid-February. But, all of our questions were answered when we rolled Shaggy over to get a mass and discovered that Shaggy is a MALE leopard seal! This is really exciting because male leopard seals are rarely seen at Cape Shirreff, and a male leopard seal has never been tagged here before.
Rosie is an adult female leopard seal and is known to hang out at Cape Shirreff. She was first identified and flipper tagged by researchers in 2007 and has been seen every summer since. Rosie is a large adult female leopard seal with a mass of 497 kilograms (1,093 pounds) and a length of 3 meters (~10 feet). When we processed some of the samples we collected from Rosie back in the lab, we learned that she had been feeding in the last few hours because her blood was full of fats from her most recent meal.
Deadpool is our second tagged male leopard seal. To tag not one but two male leopard seals made even the most stoic among us excited! Deadpool is also the only leopard seal we worked with who hauled out near other leopard seals, two of them in fact. Like the other male Shaggy, Deadpool was smaller than his female leopard seal counterparts and, like Shaggy, Deadpool was also molting. Deadpool weighs 282 kilograms (620 pounds) and has a length of 2.68 meters (~9 feet). Shaggy also displayed some serious interest in mating with one of the nearby female leopard seals, one of whom was Violet (the first leopard seal tagged as part of this project). Violet was having NONE of it.
Buttercup is the seventh leopard seal that we tagged. She is an adult female who hauled out on the west side of the Cape. Buttercup is a relatively small female leopard seal who has a mass of 394 kilograms (867 pounds) and a length of 2.93 meters (9.6 feet). She has several scars on her body that could be from other leopard seals or potentially from prey that did not want eaten, like Antarctic fur seals.
Bigonia is the eight leopard seal that we tagged. Like Rosie, Bigonia has been seen at Cape Shirreff before. She was identified and flipper tagged in 2012 but is only occasionally seen at Cape Shirreff during the summer. Bigonia is an older female leopard seal (based on her grizzled face and worn teeth), and she has several scars across her body that are likely from aggressive encounters with other leopard seals over the years. Bigonia got her name because she is the biggest leopard seal that has ever been weighed at Cape Shirreff with a mass of 540 kilograms (1,188 kilograms) and a length of 3.19 meters (10.5 feet). She’s a huge animal!
Alyssum is our ninth tagged leopard seal. She is a younger female based on her clean, white teeth and smaller body size. Alyssum has a mass of 368 kilograms (810 pounds) and a length of 2.84 meters (~9 feet). While we were working with Alyssum, she took a giant poop that was full of fur seal hair. That matched up with what we found when we processed her blood samples later that showed she had recently eaten.
Penny, named because she was our penultimate seal (or, so we thought at the time), weighs in at 476 kilograms (1,047 pounds) and has a length of 3 meters (~10 feet). She is a known female at Cape Shirreff that was first flipper tagged in 2009. Penny spends most of her summers (austral summers) at Cape Shirreff and is second most frequently seen leopard seal on the Cape.
We all joked that if we found another male leopard seal, we’d name him Wesley (since one of our female leopard seals is named Buttercup. Princess Bride reference, anyone?). None of us expected to find another male, but lo and behold, there Wesley was hauled out on the west side of the Cape. Wesley is the largest male leopard seal we worked with. He has a mass of 324 kilograms (713 pounds) and a length of 2.9 meters (nearly 10 feet). Wesley is also unique because he was fully molted, unlike the other two males.
Zinnia is our twelfth and final leopard seal that we tagged this season. We were excited to tag her because she is a juvenile leopard seal, only two to three years old. Like male leopard seals, juveniles are rare around Cape Shirreff and have never been tagged here before. Zinnia is obviously our smallest seal, since she’s so young. She has a mass of 147 kilograms (323 pounds) with a length of 2.13 meters (~7 feet). Interestingly, even though she is the youngest, her whiskers (or vibrissae) are the longest of all our tagged seals!
-Sarah Kienle, June 20, 2018