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Harp Seal

Except for the young pup stage, the harp seal spends most of its life in cold water of the Arctic or Atlantic ocean. An interesting fact about baby harp seal is simultaneous growth of teeth as it starts feeding. For more interesting harp seal facts, read on...
The name harp seal is coined with reference to the characteristic black colored markings observed in the back side of the body after molting, which resemble wishbone or harp shape. Also known by alternative names, Greenland seal and saddleback seal, it is an amazing member of the seals. However, the high mortality rate in the first year after birth (20-30 percent), hunting for fur and habitat decline altogether, lead to declining number of harp seals.

Information on Harp Seal

The harp seal is indigenous to parts of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. Identifiable features of this seal type are large black eyes and black saddle-like marking in adults. At maturity, it weighs approximately 300-400 pounds and its body length measures about 5-6.5 feet. In contrary to snow white fur of baby seal (pup), the adult fur is thick, leathery and dark gray in color. The following information will let you understand more about this marine creature.

Harp Seal Taxonomy
Harp seals are the most commercially demanding, and obviously the most hunted species of all seals. According to zoological classification, they are classified under the family Phocidae of the order Carnivora. The scientific name of this seal species is Pagophilus groenlandicus. This mammal shows sexual dimorphism, with the female having more markings than the male.

Harp Seal Habitat
It lives, molts, breeds and completes most of its life in ocean. You will be surprised to know that baby seals are bone in ice floes. Based on their habitat distribution and breeding sites, there are three separate populations of harp seals. The first and largest is found in Western North Atlantic Ocean, while the second and third populations breed in Eastern Greenland and White Sea respectively.

Harp Seal Diet
A true carnivorous by food habit, this seal primarily feeds on various types of fish and crustaceans. Included in the list of food are eel, shrimp, krill, crab, salmon, cod, flounder, squid, anchovies, octopus and herring amongst others. While hunting for food, it can dive underwater at a great speed, and has the ability to remain inside water for as long as 15 minutes.

Baby Harp Seal
At birth, a pup weighs about 25 pounds. The fur color is yellowish white (yellow coats), which turns white after 3 days (known as white coats). The fluffy white fur of baby harp seals retains for 12 days, and is truly an adorable feature. This is an adaptive attribute that helps in camouflaging the young ones in snow. The young seal weans after suckling its mother continuously for 2 weeks.

Harp Seal Behavior
The baby pups communicate with their mothers by means of bawling. Generally, this seals are very noisy and their social behavior is a proof. The adults are often found growling to ward off others, and making several sounds during courting. Amongst the large colonies of harp seals, there are also smaller groups, which exhibit hierarchy system.

Interesting Harp Seal Facts
  • Upon studies, spherical lens are isolated from the extraordinarily large eyes of harp seal. They aid in better focusing power, enabling the animal to view far off objects. Also, the movable pupil reduces glare effects.
  • The harp seal lacks ears, but it has some of the most developed senses. Say for example, this seal cannot smell underwater, but it can sense movements and vibrations with the help of its whiskers.
  • One of the harp seal adaptations is presence of thick blubber (3-4 inches) in adults. This serves an insulating layer, helping the animal to survive in the extreme cold, ice floes.
  • The blubber or insulating fatty layer is not only important for protection from cold, but it also provides energy for survival at times of food scarcity, or when the animals goes on fast.
  • Flippers are also responsible for the highly advanced thermoregulation mechanism. They act as a heat exchanging system, thereby providing cooling or warming effects to the body, as per requirements.
  • Being a sociable creature, groups of harp seals are found inhabiting a same area at one time. But, an amazing fact is, a mother can identify its pup from the group through smell.
  • The milk secreted by mother harp seal for nursing baby seals contains approximately 45 percent fats. No wonder, a breastfeeding pup increases its size to 3 times in less than 2 weeks.
  • After suckling for 2 consecutive weeks, the pup grows to about 40-45 kg body weight. By this time, it becomes ready to defend on its own. If required, the stored fat is used as an energy source for just-weaned young seals.
  • On an average, the lifespan of harp seal in the wild is about 20 years. However, there are also findings, in which harp seals are found to survive for 30-35 years.
It is very unfortunate to know that humans are the greatest threats to harp seals. The soft, white fur of baby harp seals is highly prized in the market, which encourages mass hunting of these cuddly pups. Despite the conservation effort taken up, thousands of harp seals are killed every year for the sake of fur, oil and meat. Other than human threats, preying by natural predators, like killer whales, sharks and polar bears, contributes to population decline of this marine animal.
By Ningthoujam Sandhyarani
Last Updated: 9/28/2011
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