Leopard Seal vs Penguin: What’s the Difference?

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Written by Jeremiah Wright

Published: September 12, 2022

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Leopard seals and penguins are different animals. However, they still have some things in common, such as the fact that both can be found in Antarctica. Finding differences between them, on the other hand, is the most interesting part!

Are you wondering how you can distinguish leopard seals from penguins? No worries, we’ve got this covered! Check out this article, and you’ll learn many amazing facts about leopard seals and penguins! We’ve selected some of the most important differences between the two that will help you better understand their lifestyle. 

Comparing Leopard Seal vs Penguin

Leopard SealPenguin
SizeLength: 7.9 – 11.5 feet
Weight: 440 – 1,300 pounds
Height: 10 – 45 inches
Weight: 2.2 – 75 pounds
Appearance– Dark gray or black head and back; 
– Rounded head, big snout, large mouths, flippers on all four feet;
– White or light gray around the belly; 
– Thin coat
– Black-and-white pattern; white on the belly and black on the back, sometimes with white spots on the head or black lines on the breast; 

– They have flippers, tails, and a smooth plumage
ClassificationKingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Phocidae
Genus: Hydrurga
Species: Hydrurga leptonyx
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Clade: Austrodyptornithes
Order: Sphenisciformes
Family: Spheniscidae
Distribution and Habitat– Spotted in New Zealand, Australia, South America, and South Africa;

– Primarily inhabiting the Antarctic pack ice;
Native to the Southern Hemisphere; Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands, Angola, Argentina, Australia, Namibia, South Africa, New Zealand
Predators and ThreatsKiller whales (orcas), sharks, climate changeLeopard seals, sharks, fur seals, killer whales, sea lions, climate change
BehaviorSolitary, vocalLive and breed in large colonies
Lifespan20 – 24 years6 – 26 years
Conservation StatusLeast ConcernRanging from Least Concern to Endangered, depending on the species

The Key Differences Between Leopard Seals and Penguins

Leopard seals and penguins are different from each other in many ways. Understanding how they are scientifically classified is crucial because this is a major factor in perceiving other dissimilarities. We’ll then tell you how to distinguish between the two based on their size, appearance, habitat, diet, lifespan, and interaction with humans. Keep reading to understand these differences better!

Leopard Seal vs Penguin: Classification

Types of Big Birds

The penguin family consists of six genera, which, in turn, consist of penguin species.

©fieldwork/Shutterstock.com

The first and most important difference between a leopard seal and a penguin is that the former is a species called Hydrurga leptonyx, while the latter is a family called Spheniscidae. The penguin family consists of six genera, which, in turn, consist of penguin species. Here’s how they are classified:

  • Eudyptula:
  • Eudyptula minor (Little penguin)
  • Eudyptula novaehollandiae (Australian little penguin)
  • Megadyptes:
  • Megadyptes antipodes (Yellow-eyed penguin)
  • Extinct Megadyptes waitaha (Waitaha penguin)

Leopard Seal vs Penguin: Size and Appearance

Leopard Seal Teeth - Leopard Seal

Leopard seals are much larger and heavier than penguins.

©iStock.com/Bkamprath

Leopard seals and penguins differ very much from each other in terms of size and appearance. Leopard seals are much bigger than penguins. Moreover, these two animals have different body structures. 

Penguins stand at 10 to 45 inches high and weigh 2 to 75 pounds, depending on the species. The smallest penguin species is the little penguin, also called the blue penguin. It is approximately 10 – 12 inches tall and weighs 2.2 – 3.3 pounds. The largest penguin species is the emperor penguin, which is about 50 inches tall and weighs from 55 to 100 pounds.

In contrast, leopard seals are much larger and heavier. Although their average length is 7.9 – 11.5 feet, the largest leopard seal ever recorded measured 13 feet. Moreover, they can be 13 times heavier than penguins, weighing up to 1,300 pounds! No wonder leopard seals are penguin predators.

The leopard seals’ body is extremely different from the penguins’: 

  1. Leopard seals don’t have wings like penguins, although penguins’ wings are nowadays called flippers. 
  2. Leopard seals don’t have legs to walk on. Penguins have feet that they use for walking and swimming on the water surface. They use their wings, or flippers, to swim underwater. 
  3. Leopard seals’ bodies are covered in easily distinguishable fur thanks to their “leopard” spots, while penguins’ bodies are covered in smooth plumage. 

Leopard Seal vs Penguin: Distribution and Habitat

Most Vicious Animals

Leopard seals primarily inhabit the Antarctic ice pack.

©Mogens Trolle/Shutterstock.com

Leopard seals primarily inhabit the Antarctic ice pack and rarely venture to other regions, such as Australia, South America, South Africa, or New Zealand. On the other hand, penguins, even though native to Antarctica, inhabit many other places besides this cold region. These include Argentina, Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Namibia, South Africa, the Galapagos Islands, and Angola. Numerous penguins also live in captivity. 

Leopard Seal vs Penguin: Diet and Threats

Although both leopard seals and penguins are carnivores, their size highly impacts what they eat. Penguins primarily feed on krill, small fish, cephalopods, mollusks, plankton, and sardines. On the other hand, leopard seals can also kill and feed on much larger animals, such as large seabirds, emperor penguins included (the largest penguin species). Leopard seals are considered the most ferocious sea predators. 

As for threats, penguins clearly have more predators than leopard seals because they’re smaller. While leopard seals’ main predators are sharks or killer whales, penguins can fall prey to birds like skuas, petrels, and sheathbills, as well as to sharks, orcas, and leopard seals.

Leopard Seal vs Penguin: Lifespan

African penguins can live up to 25 years in the wild and 30 years in captivity.

©Mike Korostelev/Shutterstock.com

Leopard seals have an average lifespan of 20-24 years, although some have reached 30 years in the wild. 

When it comes to penguins, things get complicated because their lifespan is highly dependent on the species and whether they live in the wild or in captivity. For example, the little penguin lives only 6.5 years in the wild but can reach 25 years in captivity. By contrast, African penguins can live up to 25 years in the wild and 30 years in captivity. 

Leopard Seal vs Penguin: Interaction with Humans

Leopard Seals

Leopard seals are solitary animals that rarely go beyond the limits of the Antarctic ice pack. Therefore, they rarely attack and even interact with people. No leopard seals are being held in captivity. The last leopard seal in captivity lived at Taronga’s Great Southern Oceans. It was called Casey and was found ashore south of Sydney with a shark wound to its abdomen. It received medical care and was transferred to Taronga’s Great Southern Oceans because specialists were afraid to return it to the wild because it could carry unknown diseases. Unfortunately, Casey’s health had steadily deteriorated over the years, and the leopard seal was put to sleep in 2014. 

In terms of leopard seal attacks, there were hardly any. The last attack occurred in 2021, and the only fatal attack happened to Kirsty Brown while she was snorkeling in Antarctica. 

Penguins

Penguins have a strong bond with humans because they are very friendly and sociable. People, in turn, do not hunt and kill them because they’re adorable creatures. Many penguins live in captivity, where they meet and greet thousands of people. Given their long lifespan in captivity, some of them reaching an incredible age of 40 years, it’s obvious that they like living in zoos and being around people. 

Moreover, penguins served as inspiration for many films and books. Some of them are “Penguins of Madagascar,” “Happy Feet,” and “March of the Penguins.” A penguin is the main character of a video game called “Pengo.” Thanks to their amiable attitude towards people, they appear in numerous cartoons even though they aren’t focused on penguins. Besides this, let’s not forget about Penguin, Batman’s villain adversary!

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About the Author

I hold seven years of professional experience in the content world, focusing on nature, and wildlife. Asides from writing, I enjoy surfing the internet and listening to music.

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