In cool outdoor news, the interestingly-named crabeater seal actually doesn’t eat crabs, but it sure has the teeth for it. In a cool set of photos from the Twitter page Nature is Lit, we got a look at the crabeater seal’s gnarly-looking teeth. Their chompers fit together in an extremely satisfying way, and they’re serrated on one side. Their name could possibly come from the look of their teeth, but they don’t actually eat crabs. This Antarctic seal actually eats mostly krill, with Antarctic fish making up a small portion of their diet as well.
Their teeth are great for filtering krill from the water as they glide effortlessly underwater. Their teeth filter and let them eat pounds of the tiny crustaceans a day. The crabeater seal is one cool Antarctic pinniped, and here are some equally cool facts about this magnificent seal, courtesy of Oceanwide Expeditions.
Whale Hunting is Directly Linked to the Crabeater Seals’ Prosperity
Experts once estimated that crabeater seals numbered around 15 million, but currently there is no reliable data to determine what the population is now. The crabeater is still thriving in the Antarctic, though, and their prosperity is actually thanks in part to declining whale populations.
Hunters and whalers hunted baleen whales nearly to extinction in the 1800s and into the 20th century. Baleen whales, you’ll remember, mainly eat krill and plankton. Well, the crabeater seal eats krill, too. Without the whales, there was less competition for the krill, so crabeaters thrived and populated. This is directly linked to their large population today.
Oceanwide Expeditions poses the question as to what will happen to the crabeater populations now that whaling is illegal in Antarctica. The baleen populations are increasing, and the crabeater has direct competition for their food sources again.
These Seals Have Interesting Breeding Practices
In comparison to other seal species, the crabeater seal has a much different breeding pattern and ritual. The breeding season is from September to November, when actually a lot of animals start their mating processes. But, while other species of seals gather together to give birth, the crabeater actually heads out alone to an ice floe.
The pregnant female gives birth alone to a single pup out on a patch of ice, nursing the pup for three weeks. The males then join the female on the ice floe to defend them. Most of the time, these males are not the ones who initially mated with the female, so they’re not directly related to the pup. But, the male will protect the family, if only to mate with the female once she’s ready for another breeding season. An interesting take on parenthood, for sure.
The pups, on the other hand, start out weighing around 44 pounds, but by the end of the three-week nursing period, they can weigh up to 240 pounds. They need that extra fat and blubber to survive the Antarctic winters, though.
Climate Change Has Directly Affected Seal Populations
The crabeater seals rely on ice floes for giving birth and as part of their natural environment. Because of this, climate change has definitely had an effect on their population and way of life. The melting sea ice has also led to declining krill populations, the crabeater’s main source of food. The crabeaters are still massively populous in Antarctica, though, and sometimes wander north to New Zealand.