Without wanting it seals have played a key role in the discovery of Antarctica. Sealers discovered a lot of land and most of the islands during their predatory raids. The discovery and raiding of these new territories almost caused the extinction of certain seal species. Today seals are the only animal species specifically protected by international law, namely the “Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals“. Under this law, only a very limited number of seals may be caught for scientific research.
Antarctic seals consist of two families: true seals and eared seals. Of the eared family only the fur seal lives in Antarctica. In fact, sixty percent of all seals live in Antarctica. Seals manage to stay under water up to half an hour and they can dive to a depth of 500 metres.
- Crabeater Seal Crabeaters are one the most successful larger mammals. Their estimated population counts forty million seals. They seldom come ashore. They live on the shelf ice and make long journeys around Antarctica.
- Elephant Seal Elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) are one of the tallest mammals in the world. The male can reach 4.5 metres in length and 4000 kg in weight.
- Fur Seal The Antarctic Fur Seal (Arctocephalus Gazella) is an eared seal. Contrary to other seals they can move very quickly on the ice.
- Leopard Seal Leopard seals (Hydrurga Leptonyx) are known for their speed and occur mostly along the northern edge of the pack ice.
- Ross Seal The Ross seal (Ommatophoca Rossii) is the smallest, least numerous and least studied Antarctic seal species.
- Weddell Seal The Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddelli) is the southern most breeding mammal in the world. He can reach 3 metres in length and 400 kg in weight.