Species P. vitulina
Harbor Seal Basics
A carnivorous marine animal, the Harbour Seal is a carnivore. It is the pinniped with the greatest geographic distribution, spanning the west and east coasts of North America, as well as the west coast of Europe.
Harbor Seal General
Harbor seals may reach a length of 5–6 feet and weigh up to 300 pounds. Their skulls are huge and spherical, with no external ears. Their skin is smooth and varies in colour from grey to practically white, and is frequently mottled or speckled, depending on the subspecies or population. They have characteristic V-shaped nostrils ringed by whiskers. Harbor seals have long, flat flippers that join with their rear limbs to enable them to swim quite well. However, they are not very good at migrating ashore and will usually stay close to the water’s edge while resting on the beach.
Harbor Seal Habitat and Range
The harbour seal is the pinniped with the greatest widespread distribution. It may be found along the Northern Hemisphere’s temperate and arctic beaches. The northern Atlantic, from the French coast to the Barents Sea, as well as the east coast of North America, are included. It may be found along the west coast of North America, from Baja California to the Arctic Ocean in the Pacific.
Within this range, harbour seals enjoy coastal settings and are often seen in shallow waters in marinas, estuaries, and lagoons. In certain regions, they may often haul themselves out of the water to rest and milk their young. While on land, they form loosely structured social groupings for protection, but otherwise they are solitary creatures.
Harbor Seal Prey and Predators
The harbour seal is a carnivore that eats largely fish and other invertebrates. They may travel up to 30 kilometres in search of food, and they have been known to go up freshwater rivers in search of salmon. In quest of food, harbour seals have been observed to dive to depths of nearly 1,500 feet. Shad, anchovies, sea bass, herring, mackerel, cod, and other fish are also favourites. When fish isn’t available, they’ll consume crustaceans like crabs and mollusks like the gigantic Pacific octopus.
Several types of predators threaten the harbour seal. Orcas are one of their most prevalent predators; they will chase them in the sea, but will also discover methods to force themselves onto shorelines to snare defenceless pups. If given the chance, many shark species will feed on pups, while others, such as the Great White Shark, may pursue adult seals, breaking the water’s surface and leaping high out of it in a high-speed chase of their prey. Sea lions hunt seals, especially young ones.
On land, bears, wolves, coyotes, and eagles are all potential dangers, with newborn pups being particularly vulnerable. When feasible, most harbour seals will utilise known haul-out locations, which are frequently selected for their seclusion from numerous terrestrial predators. Humans also hunt seals for a variety of reasons, including their blubber and pelts. Sealing, on the other hand, is now banned throughout most of its area.
The gestation period lasts around nine months after copulation. She gives birth to a single pup after that. Despite the fact that they are generally born on land, they are well-developed—weighing about 35 pounds at birth—and can swim and dive within a few hours. Mothers will feed and care for their puppies on their own for around 4-6 weeks before weaning them. The average lifespan is between 20 and 30 years, while captive animals have been known to live longer.
The world’s current harbour seal population is estimated to be between 350,000 and 500,000 individuals. Certain subspecies, however, remain endangered in locations where their habitat is threatened. On the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the species is now classified as’ Least Concern’.
Fun Facts about the Harbor Seal!
Harbor seals may be found all across their habitat and are often viewed by people. Their lively attitude makes them a popular species in big aquariums, since they are a fascinating and engaging species to learn about.
Fat is a Friend
The harbour seal spends most of its life in frigid waters because heat dissipates fast in water. To stay warm in this habitat, the species has developed extensive layers of subcutaneous fat that supply both energy and insulation when food is scarce, giving them a resting metabolic rate that is 1.7 to 2.2 times that of other terrestrial mammals of their size. Seals must feast themselves in order to run a calorie surplus in order to develop and maintain this fat layer. This also permits them to live during periods when food is scarce, since they may rely on their fat stores instead.
Holding its Breath
The harbour seal has adapted well to its maritime habitat. It has webbed flippers that let it swim rapidly and effectively, in addition to its thick covering of blubber that keeps it warm. They can also dive to incredible depths for an air-breathing animal, reaching up to 1,500 feet at times.
Seals and other marine creatures maintain their lungs full and cease breathing underwater rather than exhaling before diving. They save oxygen and decrease the build-up of lactic acid in their muscles that might otherwise occur if their heart rate were to decline. Another evolutionary trait that helps harbour seals live such a marine-based lifestyle is their tiny nostrils, which readily shut when swimming.
Same but Different
Although harbour seals are mainly monomorphic, there are a few subspecies that vary somewhat in appearance, mostly in skin colour. Individuals with a yellow-cream coat with little pale ringed black dots are known as “bright phase.” Seals in the “dark phase” have a black coat with dark patches and bright rings, mostly on the upper side. Different concentrations of melanocytes in the epidermis cause their different colour patterns. This might be due to differences in the availability of various kinds of food in different places within their range.