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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Common Seal Phoca vitulina

Also known as the harbor seal, the common seal has the widest distribution of any seal and the widest variety of markings. Its background color ranges from pale gray to brown, with dark spots and rings and sometimes a dark stripe along the back. The common seal has a smoothly domed head and a doglike muzzle. It feeds primarily on fish, often catching them in shallow water close to the shore. It dives for up to five minutes, but rarely to any great depth. The common seal spends much of its time on rock flats and sandbanks, and it is here that the females give birth. Common seal pups shed their soft natal coat before they are born, starting life with a dark version of the adult coat, unlike the pups of some other seals. Although they can swim almost immediately, they often use their front flippers to ride on their mother’s back. They are weaned at about four weeks. True to their name, common seals are still abundant, but in the North Sea they have been adversely affected by pollution, and also by a highly infectious viral disease that broke out in the late 1980s.

Common Sealzoom image
  • Order Carnivora
  • Length 4–6 ft (1.4–1.9 m)
  • Weight 120–375 lb (55–170 kg)
  • Habitat Inshore waters, estuaries, rivers
  • Distribution North Pacific and north Atlantic, reaching as far south as Baja California
Common Seal habitat mapzoom image