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Harbor Seal

Phoca vitulina


The harbor (or harbour) seal (Phoca vitulina), also known as the common seal, is a true seal found along temperate and Arctic marine coastlines of the Northern Hemisphere. They are found in coastal waters of the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as well as those of the Baltic and North Seas, making them the most widely distributed of the pinnipeds (walruses, eared seals, and true seals). Common seals are brown, tan, or gray, with distinctive V-shaped nostrils. An adult can attain a length of 1.85 meters (6.1 ft) and a mass of 132 kilograms (290 lb). Females outlive males (30–35 years versus 20–25 years). Common seals stick to familiar resting spots or haulout sites, generally rocky areas (although ice, sand and mud may also be used) where they are protected from adverse weather conditions and predation, near a foraging area. Males may fight over mates underwater and on land. Females are believed to mate with the strongest males and generally bear a single pup, which they care for alone. Pups are able to swim and dive within hours of birth, and they develop quickly on their mothers' fat-rich milk. A fatty tissue layer called blubber is present under their skins and helps to maintain body temperature. Their global population is 5-6 million, but subspecies in certain habitats are threatened. Seal hunting or sealing, once a common practice, is now illegal in most nations within the animal's range.


Characterized as showing a strong degree of site fidelity in their choice of resting sites, they may spend several days at sea and travel up to 50 kilometers in search of feeding grounds, and will also swim some distance upstream into freshwater in large rivers. Resting sites may be both rugged, rocky coasts, such as those of the Hebrides or the shorelines of New England, or sandy beaches. They also inhabit sandy intertidal zones; some seals may also enter estuaries in pursuit of their fish prey. Some have even taken to feeding and playing in New York Harbor and Boston Harbor in recent years. The seals frequently choose to congregate in harbors, lending the animals their other common name. The feeding habits have been studied closely in many parts of their range; they are known to prey primarily upon fish, such as menhaden, anchovy, sea bass, herring, mackerel, cod, whiting and flatfish, and occasionally upon shrimp, crabs, mollusks and squid. They are able to dive for over ten minutes, reaching depths of over 457 meters (about 1500 feet), but most dives are shorter: about three minutes long at depths of about 20 meters (about 66 feet). Common seals have been recorded to attack, kill and eat several kinds of seabirds.


Playful little bugger.. it was coming up to the surface and diving down again and again for about a half hour, terrorizing our live bait..while trying to fish for mackarel in SouthWest Harbor, Maine.

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1 Comment

galewhale..Gale 11 years ago

Great descriptions! Only one further detail which is mom's nurse their pups for only 14-28 days approximately! Then they are on their own... it is said they join up together and head out to find shrimp or small easy to catch food, but that is anecdotal.

I am studying a predominately pupping and female ledge within miles of your photos! So neat to see neighboring seals. I have been observing one haul out since 1988 and can recognize 20+ individuals.... one or two I have seen since '88 so can confirm that these individuals do live about 35+ years (they were mature= at least 5 when I first saw them)

Spotted by

Maine, USA

Spotted on Aug 25, 2005
Submitted on May 4, 2011

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