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Harbor seal

Harbor seal

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Scientific Name:

Phoca vitulina


Coastal waters of the northern hemisphere, from temperate to polar regions. In Europe they are found on all northern European coasts, from Iceland to Scandinavia.


Carnivore. Fish, squid, whelk, crabs and mussels (5 - 8kg per day). Can travel up to 50km in search of food.


Habitat: Coastal waters, bays, rivers, estuaries. They go ashore to breed, rest and molt.


Gestation: ~11 months. Mothers nurse their young for only about 3-4 weeks, 1 pup


Social structure: Solitary in water but form large groups when ashore. Polygynous (males mate with one or a few females)


Weight: Males reach 150 kg, Females reach 110 kg


Dimensions: Males reach 1.9m, Females reach 1.7m


Lifespan: 30  - 35 years. Females typically live mone than males.


IUCN Status: Least concern


Estimated population in the wild: 610,000 - 640,000


Threats: Entanglement in fishing nets, overfishing, illegal hunting and licensed killing to protect fisheries (allowed in the UK, Canada and USA), viral outbreaks, oil spills and chemical pollution.


Did you know that:

  1. Unlike dolphins, seals exhale before diving. They can stay underwater for ~ 10min and reach depths of 150m or more.
  2. Pups are able to swim and dive within minutes from birth and often ride on their mother's back while in water.
  3. Good vision in and out of the water, probably colorblind.
  4. They have a highly developed sense of smell only outside water. Females use smell for pup recognition and males to locate females in oestrus.
  5. Seals have no external ears. Instead they have a "meatus" behind their eyes, with a keen sense of hearing. Τhey locate the origin of sounds very precisely by making scanning movements with their head.
  6. Multiple layers of blubber provide insulation, buoyancy and energy reserves.
  7. Short and thick fur with patterns unique to each individual, like the human fingerprints. Glands in the skin secrete oils that protect the coat.
  8. For hydrodynamic reasons no part of their body protrudes, not even their genitals which are hidden in a skin fold!
  9. Their flippers are very short, covered with hair and have claws as long as 5cm. They are adjusted for swimming, but not walking.

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