Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria

Leopard Seal, Hydrurga leptonyx

Image Details
  • Plate Number: 21
  • Media: Drawing - pencil, watercolour and indian ink
  • Artist: Ludwig Becker
  • Location: Australia, Victorian coast
  • Primary inscriptions: 1/6 / 1/6 / 1/6 / 31/3 tooth lower jaw, / nat size
  • Secondary inscriptions: 113 (in Bartholomew's hand)
Transcript from the Prodromus of Zoology

Plate 21. Sea-Leopard Seal, Stenorhynchus leptonyx (now known as Leopard Seal, Hydrurga leptonyx), found along the Victorian Coast

This, the largest of the Seals frequenting our coasts, is a most voracious devourer of fish and occasionally of marine birds. It is a good example of the group of genera termed "Earless Seals," from their having no external ear-conch visible. Unlike the Eared Seals, the hind limbs are directed backwards when at rest, nearly in a line with the body, and closely approximated to the tail with only a moderate, obliquely lateral, power of motion; so that, on the land, instead of raising the body clear of the ground and walking on the four legs like the eared seals, it can only progress painfully on the land by the action of the abdominal muscles and singularly flexible pine. Dr. Ludwig Becker (who died in the Burke and Wills Expedition across the Australian Continent), when making our plate from a living specimen, wrote thus to me on this point :- "The specimen while alive was able to open its mouth so much that the upper and lower jaw formed an angle of nearly eighty degrees. Palate and tongue pale flesh-color. The flexibility of the spine was seen while the poor animal was crying either from pain or for food; it could rise the head two feet and a half from the floor while still the sternum was level with the belly, and the head when raised was bent backwards. At the same time the spine from above the pelvis to the tail moved right to left. The sound was somewhat between a roaring and a grunting noise, not very strong."

This species abounds in countless myriads on the packed ice of the Antarctic Ocean, and only occurs on our shores as an occasional visitant strayed from its usual haunts.

Fine specimens from the Victorian coasts are in the National Museum.