The harp seal is mostly found in the cold and snow-covered oceans of the Arctic and North Atlantic waters. They are deft swimmers especially with their short and strong flippers. The adult seals hardly spend time on land and prefer swimming, as the temperature in deeper levels of the ocean are relatively warmer. However, the baby seals spend most of their childhood on land amidst the snow. The reason for them to stay on land is because, snow-covered terrain provides baby seals a conducive camouflage to survive. This is because, baby seals are born with pristine white fur which not only keeps them warm, but also protects them from predators such as the Polar bear, killer whales, sharks, and humans. Let us find out some more harp seal facts in this article.
Harp Seal Facts
Following are some very fascinating facts about harp seals and how these animals live in such cold and harsh terrains:
These seals are arctic mammals that migrate from Greenland during the end of December to the French, Iles de la Madeleine. During the end of February and the beginning of March, the harp seal migrate in thousands towards the icy floes or floating ice around the Madeleine islands. They travel 25,000 km in order to give birth to their young which are called the 'Whitecoats.' The seals habitats is also spread across the White Sea (Russia), the West Ice (Greenland Sea) and the Gulf Stream and Front areas of the Northwestern Atlantic. Their population is the most dense in Canada in its Newfoundland terrains, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off the coasts of Labrador.
The harp seal is completely white when it's a cub but as it grows its skin turns light yellowish gray. This change in appearance occurs because the adults do not require the protective camouflage any longer. They have a distinct saddle like marking on their back which has given them the nick name of 'saddleback seals'. These seals are about 5.25 to 6.25 ft long and can weigh up to 400 lbs or 180 kg.
Harp Seal Diet
Have you ever wondered what do seals eat? Well, these seals like all other species of seals found in the world are carnivorous and feed on fish such as capelin, polar cod, sculpn, shrimp, squids, and crustaceans. They usually dive underwater up to depths of 200 m or more so as to feed and can stay submerged for up to 15 minutes at a stretch.
Lifespan and Behavior
The adults reach the age for mating by the time they are 4-5 yrs old. The breeding grounds may sometimes hold up to 3000 seals per sq km. The males try to persuade the females through ritualistic courting calls, paw gestures and even blowing bubbles at them! The females congregate so as to give birth, the pups are delivered by April and are about 80 to 85 cm in length and weigh around 11 to 12 kg. Their mortality rate for these pups is only 20 -30 % during the first year. That is why they need to be constantly fed for the first 12 days during which they gain 40 to 45 kg of weigh and body fat. Once the new pup has been fed, it is weaned so that the mother can mate again which is followed by a period of intense feeding to regain body fat. This feeding is crucial as they eat almost nothing during their Seal Molting period between April and May. The pups begin to swim and fend for themselves by the time they are 4 weeks old.
Endangered Harp Seal Population
All the 3 population of harp seal are hunted for their meat, fur, and oil which is extracted from their blubber. They are most hunted in Canada and Greenland, while Canada has a restricted haunting ratio of 275,000 per year, it is called the Total Allowable Catch (TAC). While Greenland doesn't have any restricted limits. Conservation groups believe that the estimated official reports of the hunted harp seal is far below its original extend. The population of the harp seal has fallen drastically and is continuing to fall, it is categorized under the Appendix III of the Bern Convention which allows their hunting under regulated permits. Though they may soon have to be enlisted as endangered species as the harp seal habitat and population in being threatened due to dangerously high pollution and toxic levels in the ocean, oil spills and the drastic loss of food to feed on.
The harp seal is a fantastic and fascinating mammal, they are one of the cutest seals found in the world. Killing them excessively for feeding man's vested interests is taking cruelty towards animals to a newer and far more disgusting extent. Help protect them, as the WILDAID says, 'When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too.'