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Ringed seal (Phoca hispida)

Rin­ged seal

Ringed seal

Descrip­ti­on: Rin­ged seals reach about 1.1-1.6 metres in length, weig­hing 50-100 kg with a weight mini­mum in May to June and a maxi­mum in autumn. In other words, they are much smal­ler than Bear­ded seals. It is vir­tual­ly impos­si­ble to tell the sexes apart. The bel­ly is sil­ver-grey, the sides and the back much dar­ker with a varied pat­tern of rings, to which this spe­ci­es owes its name.

Dis­tri­bu­ti­on / Migra­ti­on: The Rin­ged seal occurs ever­y­whe­re in the Arc­tic inclu- ding the nort­hern­most are­as. It is the only arc­tic seal spe­ci­es that is able to keep a breat­hing hole open even in thick ice with the claws of its fore­flip­pers. Rin­ged seals occur in Sval­bard waters throughout the year, but most­ly near the ice edge north of the archi­pe­la­go. This seal spends its who­le life in or at least near drift ice or fjord ice. As long as the fjords are still fro­zen, they stay in qui­te lar­ge num­bers on the fjord ice. After moul­ting, which hap­pens in June and July, they retre­at to open waters near the ice edge.

Obser­va­tions of Rin­ged seals, espe­cial­ly good pho­to oppor­tu­nities, are qui­te rare, in con­trast to Bear­ded seals.

Bio­lo­gy: Rin­ged seals can dive several hund­red metres deep and spend up to 45 minu­tes under water, to catch small fish and crustace­ans.

They give birth in April or May in snow caves on fjord ice. In years with litt­le snow, the seal pup hard­ly has a chan­ce to sur­vi­ve the first days. The pup is white, about 60 cm long and weighs 4.5 kg. It spends six weeks with its mother, half of this time in the water, and will reach a weight of 20 kg during this nur­sing peri­od. The fema­le will mate again when the pup is about to beco­me inde­pen­dent, but it takes ano­t­her four mon­ths until pregnan­cy actual­ly pro­ceeds with the deve­lo­p­ment of the fer­ti­li­zed egg.

Mis­cel­la­ne­ous: The Rin­ged seal is the most abundant arc­tic seal spe­ci­es; the glo­bal popu­la­ti­on is esti­ma­ted at several mil­li­on indi­vi­du­als. They are the pre­fer­red meal of Polar bears, but Green­land sharks and occa­sio­nal­ly Wal­rus may also take a Rin­ged seal. New-born pups may fall vic­tim to Arc­tic foxes or Glau­cous gulls, if snow is lacking to hide in.

Man has hun­ted Rin­ged seals in their thousands and is still doing so ever­y­whe­re in the Arc­tic; in Sval­bard it is pos­si­ble for the locals to hunt Rin­ged seals out­side the pro­tec­ted are­as and the bree­ding sea­son. Cat­ches are actual­ly low, whe­re­as this is a main tar­get spe­ci­es for hun­ters in Green­land. The meat is main­ly used as dog food, but also for human con­sump­ti­on. If a Rin­ged seal escapes from all the­se dan­gers, it may well beco­me several deca­des old.

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