Harp Seal Facts: Animals of the Arctic

Young harp seals, such as this one on a frozen expanse of the White Sea, are much lighter in color than their adult counterparts.
Young harp seals, such as this one on a frozen expanse of the White Sea, are much lighter in color than their adult counterparts.

5. Physical Description

The harp seal is a light gray or white mammal with large harp-shaped rings on its back, which are what it is named after. Its face and eyes are black. It also has a pair of flippers, which help to maintain its heat balance. It has a huge coat of fur and a thick coat of blubber underneath. The blubber helps to provide it with stored energy, and keeps it warm during extremely cold weather. The average weight for males is 287 pounds (130 kilograms), which is slightly lighter among females. The harp seal is 4.9 to 6.6 feet (1.5-2 meters) in length.

4. Diet

Harp seals have a relatively narrow dietary range. They are carnivorous, mainly feeding on small fish and crustaceans. In the winter months, when they migrate, they primarily fed on capelin and other pelagic fish, such as herring and polar cod. They will also consume crustaceans, such as euphausiids, mysids, amphipods, and shrimp. Harp seals can migrate for very long distances while searching for food sources.

3. Habitat and Range

Harp seals live in the waters of the Arctic Ocean and the far northern reaches of the Atlantic Ocean. They are commonly found in eastern Canada, especially in the maritime provinces, as well as Norway, Greenland, and Russia. Because they are migratory, they have also been found as far away as Great Britain and Japan. They prefer to swim and live in the ocean, and only spend a small amount of their time on land. As a kind of ice seal, harp seals rely on sea ice for whelping. As a result, they are threatened as global climate change thins and fragments sea ice. They are also major hunting targets. However, they are still relatively thriving today, and are classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a species of "Least Concern".

2. Behavior

Harp seals are social animals which enjoy each other's company. They usually form large groups and remain in them even while migrating. They are very capable when it comes to navigation, and are acutely aware of sounds and signs. They are known as being able to dive to depths of up to 590 to 920 feet (180-280 meters). When seeking to avert danger, they can remain underwater for up to 15 minutes.

1. Reproduction

During mating season, which occurs in the winter, mature male seals each occupy a spot on the ice in an attempt to attract female seals. Mating, however, happens in the water itself. After mating, the females return to the land with their fertilized eggs following a successful breeding, which grow into a spherical embryo that is implanted in the mother's uterus. One baby seal is born after roughly three months. Female seals usually give birth in February. Mothers recognize their own pups by scent, and only take care of their own pups. Usually mothers leave their babies to themselves after 12 days. Newborn pups are about 2.8 feet (85 centimeters) long, weigh around 24.3 pounds (11 kilograms), and are yellowish in color. The Harp seal has a life span of roughly 30 years.


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