4.11.2008

Weddell Seals

The Weddell seal is the most southerly living mammal in the world. Spending most of its time on fast-ice, frozen sea ice attached to the coast, the Weddells uses tidal cracks for breathing holes. They keep these holes open by sawing at the ice with their upper incisors and canine teeth and by swing their head from side to side. Their live expectancy is based upon longevity of their teeth, up to 20 years.



Female Weddell seals, called cows, are slightly larger in size than the bulls and can grow up to 11 feet long and weigh up to 1200 pounds.



Mating season for the Weddell seal occurs only weeks after the previous years pupping season. Implantation however, will occur over three weeks later, allowing for the cow to direct all of her energies towards milking her current newborn.



Pregnant cows begin gathering at traditional pupping areas as early as late August. In latitudes as far south as the McMurdo area, peak pupping time occurs in late October into November. At birth, pups weigh around 60 pounds and fatten quickly on their mothers 42% fat milk. Though twins are very rare, it isn't uncommon for one mother to adopt an abandoned pup (as in this photo).




Lactation lasts for up to 50 days when the pup may weigh up to 220 pounds. While the mother nurses, she will not feed, causing her to loose a significant percentage of her body weight in order to best protect her pup. Although Killer whales are the Weddells primary predator, Leopard seals are also known to kill the pups.



At birth, Weddell pups have no insulating blubber, but they do have very fine, thick baby fur, called lunago. At two weeks the pups begin to loose this grey natal coat and will molt over the course of a month into a coat similar to the adults.



Vibrissae, or whiskers, are very important to seals. With many nerve endings at their base, vibrissae are extremely sensitive to motion. This is important as visibility diminishes with depth and the detection of prey movement by the Weddell is determined by the feeling of subtle changes in the fishes motion instead of by sight.




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