Creature Feature: Harbour Seal
This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 Wild Times Newsletter.
Arctic Shores is home to four playful and entertaining harbour seals. The female quartette ranges from 11 to 18 years. Hula, Wasabi, Millie, and Sushi spend their day darting around their indoor and outdoor saltwater pools, and resting poolside to watch the crowds. Along with sea lions and walruses, these furry mammals are known as pinnipeds, meaning flipper-footed. Long, flat flippers, each with five webbed digits, propel them with speed and agility through the water. Thick layers of subcutaneous fat provides energy, and insulation in the cold water. Unlike a sea lion, seals don’t have ear flaps.
SIZE: They can reach up to 1.9 m (6 ft) long and can weigh up to 160 kg (352 lbs).
HABITAT: Saltwater shorelines north of the equator in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Often seen near piers, beaches and intercostal islands.
DIET: Mostly fish (cod, herring, salmon) as well as squid, octopus, crabs, clams. Each whisker moves independently to feel the vibrations of swimming prey.
BEHAVIOURS: Can dive down to 457 m (1,500 ft) but generally forage in shallower waters. To accomplish this feat they stop breathing, slow their heart rate and shunt blood from their extremities to their brain, heart and muscles.
OFFSPRING: One pup per year.
LIFE EXPECTANCY: Females outlive males – 30-35 years vs 20-25 years. Longest recorded lifespan was 47 years.
THREATS: Predators include sharks, killer whales and polar bears. Humans hunt them for their fur, oil and meat. No conservation concerns at this time.