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Harp seal (Phoca groenlandica)

Harp seal

Harp seal

Description: Harp seals are relatively small seals, measuring 1.70 to 1.80 metres and weighing 120 to 140 kg. The fur pattern of the adults is mainly silverish grey, but has a large, dark spot across the back that looks vaguely similar to a saddle, hence the name. This pattern is more strongly pronounced with males than femailes. The head is also partly black.

Harp seals are easily identified by their behaviour: in Spitsbergen waters, they are mostly seen in larger groups near the ice edge or within drift ice, often swimming in a very lively and playful way. Sightings in fjords are rare.

Distribution / Migration: Harp seals can be found in the Arctic from Newfoundland to West and East Greenland and into the Barents sea, mostly in the vicinity of drift ice.

Biology: Harp seals dive down to 200 metres and feed on a variety of fish and crustaceans. Mating occurs in January and February, but the fertilized egg is implanted after a delay of about 4 months in May or June. The pup, approximately 85 cm large, is born next January or February. It suckles for only about 12 days, but gains about 2 kg weight per day during this period. It will then spend another 2 weeks on the ice, until its fur, originally white, has changed to a pattern with dark spots. The fur deve- lops the characteristic „saddle“ pattern of the adults only after 7 (males) or 12 years (females). Polar bears, Greenland sharks and Orcas are the Harp seal’s worst enemy; if they manage to escape those, then they may live for up to 35 years.

Miscellaneous: The global Harp seal population, once numbering many millions, has been reduced dramatically throughout centuries of industrial hunting, but is still estimated around 7 million. Several 100,000 are still taken each year, most of them in Canada.

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last modification: 2014-10-26 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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