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What Eats Seals? (6 Top Predators +Pictures)

what eats seals

The main predators of seals are killer whales, sharks, polar bears, leopard seals, arctic wolves, and humans.

The main natural predators of seals include killer whales (orca), Arctic wolves, sharks, polar bears, leopard seals, and humans. They are preyed on by many animals because they lack a defense mechanism against their natural predators.

Note: There are higher numbers of Antarctic seals due to lack of natural predators compared to those in the Arctic region

What Eats Seals?

1. Orcas (aka Killer Whales)

orca
Scientific NameOrcinus orca
Type of AnimalMammal
RangeAll Oceans
DietCarnivore

Killer whales are the leading natural predators of seals. They are enormous and usually hunt seals while in the water.

Their most popular targets are the baby seal because they are vulnerable and have not developed excellent swimming skills as adult seals. This makes them easy to catch. However, this does not mean that killer whales do not hunt adult seals.

Killer whales are larger than seals; thus, hunting and killing them is easy. They prefer to ambush seals in their packs and apply different tactics to capture them.

For example, if it is a baby seal, the whale will just swallow it whole. However, if the seal is large, it can tear and shred it.

Killer whales are also known to toss and flip seals up in the air using their tail. They also kill seals by ramming them and crushing their thoracic cavity using their flukes.

orca

Killer whales usually target the weak, isolated, or young seals and often hunt in packs. They typically chase their prey until it gets tired, or if the prey is a fast swimmer, they converge from different directions to corner it.

They are highly intelligent mammals that employ deceitful tactics to capture their prey. If the prey seems difficult to catch, they sometimes pretend to retreat and ambush it when the prey lets it down its guard.

They are incredibly skilled hunters and have been blamed for killing an entire population of sea lions and fur seals in northern Pacific and southern Alaska in the 1960s and 1970s. A significant threat to seals’ existence has been associated with killer whales.

In addition, they have been linked to having eliminated an entire population of sea otters in Aleutians and causing a decline of stellar sea lions by 80 percent.  

The fact that killer whales often attack from several directions and usually in packs of at least a dozen means that they can wipe out an entire pack of seals.

2. Sharks

great white shark
Scientific NameSelachimorpha (Superorder)
Type of AnimalFish
RangeWorldwide
DietCarnivore

Like killer whales, sharks mostly prey on vulnerable and young seals. They also prefer to swallow their food whole, making pups a better choice.

Unlike killer whales that directly hunt their prey, sharks usually sneak on seals. They swim deep below them and attack via a sudden vertical rush. Additionally, sharks are solitary hunters. The distinct sudden vertical rush attack accounts for a success rate of around 48 percent.  

great white shark

Sharks can sneak on seals by camouflaging advantage provided by low-light conditions. Low-light conditions occur due to optical scattering of light through water, dimly light seal habitat, and sharks dark grey back.

For this reason, most shark attacks occur during the first two hours of sunrise. This is because light penetration in the water is minimal during those hours. However, as light intensity and penetration increase, sharks’ stealth and ambush strategy is compromised.

If the seal is not dangerous harmed or disabled during the attack, it can easily escape due to its excellent maneuvering skills. Additionally, if the seal detects a shark before it strikes, it can injure it.

3. Polar Bears

Polar bear eating meat
Scientific NameUrsus maritimus
Type of AnimalMammal
Rangethe Arctic
DietCarnivore

The polar bears are the primary land predators of seals. Most polar bears are found north of the Arctic Circle to the North Pole and south of the Arctic Circle. Unlike other bears, polar bears require a large amount of proteins and fats, thus making them almost exclusively carnivorous.

They prefer to eat ringed seals but also feed on bearded seals. According to research, a polar bear killed more ringed seals than bearded seals, with ringed seals pups accounting for half of those killed. They have a huge appetite, and their stomach can hold 10-20 percent of their body weight.

polar bears

They usually practice still hunting, patiently waiting for the seal as it comes out to breathe. When the seal approaches the surface, they grab it and pull it out of the water onto the surface. They usually use their sense of smell to find seal birth dens and then break through the den’s roof to catch the seal.

Nonetheless, considering that polar bears are solitary except during mating season puts them at a disadvantage when hunting seals in the Arctic. This is because seals live in huge colonies and often protect each other.

4. Arctic Wolves

arctic wolf
Scientific NameCanis lupus arctos
Type of AnimalMammal
Rangethe Arctic regions of North America and Greenland
DietCarnivore

Arctic wolves are predominately carnivorous, residing in icy environments. Although they have adapted to this extreme weather condition, they require a diet rich in fat. Seals provide adequate fat for the Arctic wolves to survive.

In terms of hunting, Arctic wolves and polar bears have some similarities. They are both patient hunters and have great predation skills. Unlike polar bears, Arctic wolves are social animals that hunt in packs.

During hunting, they stalk their prey and pounce on it at the most reasonable time. They also chase their prey to test its weakness. Surprisingly, hunting weak seals is beneficial for the ecosystem.

This hunting method improves the overall health of their prey by eliminating the unhealthy and allowing healthy seals to reproduce.

Arctic wolves use their incredible sense of smell and hearing abilities to locate their prey. When hunting large animals such as seals, the wolf pack separates and surrounds it. They then attack from all directions, with the lead wolf going for the animal’s shoulder or neck. The rest of the wolves attack the rear and others from the front until the prey is subdued.

However, hunting adult seals is an un-uphill task for wolves due to weight and size differences. An adult male elephant seal can weigh up to 5000 pounds while a mature Arctic wolf around 150 pounds. It is for this reason Arctic wolves prey on pups and weak seals.

5. Leopard Seals

Leopard Seal
Scientific NameHydrurga leptonyx
Type of AnimalMammal
RangeAntarctic
DietOmnivore

Although seals portray a harmonious and peaceful family-like setting, they are faced with internal threats from other larger seals. One such threat is the leopard seal, which kills and eats other seals, including crabeater and Weddell.

Leopard seals are solitary and extremely vicious animals. They hunt pups by tricking them using games before catching and eating them. They’re also very high up in the food chain. Their only natural predator is the orca whale.

6. Humans

human
Scientific NameHomo sapiens
Type of AnimalMammal
RangeWorldwide
DietOmnivore

Humans are the largest threats to seals. During the 19th and 20th centuries, humans hunted seals for their meat, oil and pelts to the point of near extinction. The effect of human hunting surpasses that of the other natural predators, including killer whales.

Although hunting for seals is regulated, an annual hunting event in Canada allows hunters to hunt thousands of seals, mostly harp seals.

However, human activities continue to threaten seals existence. One major human activity is the emission of greenhouse gases that have been associated with climate change. Climate change has resulted in the disappearance of sea ice. Sea ice is critical for seals to raise their pups.

The other threat to seals is entanglement in man-made debris, especially from the fishing industries. The most vulnerable are young seals.

Humans have also contributed to the disruption of the seals’ food chain. Excessive hunting in the same waters where seals source their foods interrupts the food chain. In the process, they cannot get enough food required to survive and many die of hunger.

Furthermore, when they are weak, they become vulnerable to other natural predators like killer whales, sharks, Arctic wolves, polar bears, or leopard seals.

Humans need to limit microplastic pollution, greenhouse gases emission, and extensive fishing in areas where seals source their food. Furthermore, stringent measures should be put forth to limit seal hunting.

What Do Seals Eat?

Seals are large semi-aquatic mammals that reside in coastal waters and rocky shores, mainly in Arctic and Antarctic regions. They are carnivorous, and their main prey includes fish, crabs, squid, and krill.

Larger and ferocious seals like the leopard seal feed mainly on penguins, seabirds, and other seals.

There are 33 species of seals worldwide and prefer to live in herds. Although they are carnivorous, they are also preyed on by other predators. They have predators on both land and the sea, with the most vulnerable being baby seals.

Conclusion

Seals are constantly facing threats both on land and sea, and if measures are not enacted to protect them, their existence is not guaranteed. Furthermore, the continued disappearance of sea ice is a huge threat to seals.

Although it is hard to protect them from other natural predators, it is paramount that humans limit activities that threaten their survival.

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