Leopard seals at Easter Island (Rapa Nui)

Though leopard seals live and reproduce almost exclusively in fast ice and pack ice habitats surrounding the Antarctic Continent, they have been reported to range northward to South Georgia in the South Atlantic Ocean, South Africa, Patagonia, New Zealand and several islands in the South Atlantic, South Pacific, and southern Indian oceans. We summarize recent (2011 through 2018) sightings of leopard seals at Easter Island (Rapa Nui), Eastern Polynesia, and we discuss archeological and anthropological records (i.e., rock art, legends, archeological specimens, Rongorongo script) that arguably indicate that leopard seals have periodically appeared at the island for several centuries. We think that the most likely origin of these visits of leopard seals to Easter Island is from the Antarctic Peninsula to southwestern South America in austral winter as seasonal sea ice expands northward, or perhaps more recently from a small resident population in Tierra del Fuego, via the broad, cold Humboldt Current that flows northward along the Chilean coast from the Southern Ocean.

Stewart, Brent & Grove, Jack & Kühlem, Annette & Flores, Marcelo. (2020). Recent and historic occurrences of leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) at Easter Island (Rapa Nui), Eastern Polynesia. Polar Biology. 43. 1-4. 10.1007/s00300-020-02741-z.