Scientific Name: Phoca groenlandica
Harp seals are fast-swimming, sea and ice dwelling mammals named for the unique black harp or horseshoe shape on their back. They are known by many names around the world, including "Sea Dog" in Norway. The adult body is pale bluish-gray color. They weigh about 130-160 kilograms (about 286-352 pounds) and grow to 1.6-1.9 meters (about 5.2-6.2 feet).
There are three different populations of the Harp seal. The smallest population that breeds off the Jan Mayen Islands in the Greenland Sea is thought to have about 300,000 animals. The second population is found in the White Sea off the Russian coast and has an estimated population of 800,000. The largest group, with 2.3 million individuals, is found in the North Atlantic in the Gulf of St. Lawrence off the coast of Newfoundland.
Harp seals live in the open waters of the Arctic and northwest Atlantic Ocean. They migrate south in the fall and north in the summer. During the breeding season, Harp seals congregate by the thousands on the Arctic ice. Female seals give birth to one pup between February and March. Pups are born with white fur and will develop their characteristic markings after many moltings.
Harp seals feed on fish such as herring, cod, redfish, and halibut as well as invertebrates such as crabs. They are hunted by sharks, killer whales, polar bears, and walruses. Humans also hunt harp seals for their fur. Over-fishing and climate change have affected food supply and habitat for harp seals. These threats contribute to the species being listed as threatened.
Research Links Related to Harp Seal:
- BBC Nature -- Harp Seal
Fact sheet and photos.
- Museum of Zoology -- Animal Diversity Web -- University of Michigan -- Harp Seal
Fact Sheet, photos and information on communication and perception.
- National Geographic -- Harp Seal
Photos and multimedia audio, fact sheet.
- Nature.ca -- Harp Seal
Fact sheet, size, physical features and line drawings.
- NOAA - Harp Seal
Link to New England Aquarium for health analysis and link to Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (Photos).
- Pinnipeds.org -- Harp Seal
Covers distribution, status and lifestyle. Great photos.
- Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies -- ID of Harbor, Gray, Harp, Hooded and Ringed Seals
Male and Female differences. Drawings and photos of seal heads.
- Smithsonian Museum of Natural History - Harp Seal
Basic fact sheet, distribution map, length, weight, photos.