“Crabeater seals are one of the most curious animals I was fortunate to work with. When the gulf waters freeze over during the Antarctic winter, they hunt for the krill that lives underneath the ice surface. These curious and happy seals gather around airholes, which they use to take in air after hunting or playing underwater. Scuba diving in a place like that is a wonderful and exciting adventure.” Photographer Mariusz Potocki
The crabeater seal, Lobodon carcinophagus, is a true seal with a circumpolar distribution around the coast of Antarctica. They are medium to large-sized (over 2 m in length), relatively slender and pale-colored, found primarily on the free floating pack ice that extends seasonally out from the Antarctic coast, which they use as a platform for resting, mating, social aggregation and accessing their prey.
They are by far the most abundant seal species in the world. While population estimates are uncertain, there are at least 7 million and possibly as many as 75 million individuals. This success of this species is due to its specialized predation on the abundant Antarctic krill of the Southern Ocean, for which it has uniquely adapted sieve-like tooth structure.
Indeed, its scientific name, translated as “lobe-toothed (lobodon) crab eater (carcinophagus)”, refers specifically to the finely-lobed teeth adapted to filtering their small crustacean prey.As well as an important krill predator, the crabeater seal is an important component of the diet of leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx), which consume about 80% of all crabeater pups.
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