Sub-polar to polar latitudes of the north Atlantic and Arctic oceans
Reproduce on the ice surface; feed at the ice edge
Order Pinnipedia (seals, sea lions, and relatives), Family Phocidae (true seals)
The harp seal is a true seal that lives in the north Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, spending long periods of time associated with sea ice. This species gets its common name from the harp-shaped markings on the back of the otherwise darkly colored adults. Young pups are solid white. This species is highly migratory, with individuals following Arctic sea ice as it expands and contracts throughout the year.
Harp seals are foraging predators that eat several dozen species of bony fishes and invertebrates. They will eat just about anything they can catch. Juveniles eat krill and other pelagic crustaceans, and the diet diversifies as they grow. Adult harp seals are eaten by killer whales and large sharks. Juveniles are eaten by polar bears and other terrestrial predators, including foxes and wolves.
Courtship among harp seals takes place on the ice surface, but mating typically occurs in the water. Both males and females may mate with several partners during the mating season. Like all mammals, harp seals reproduce via internal fertilization and give birth to live young. Pups are born on the ice surface and are nursed by their mothers for only 12 days. After the nursing period, the pup is still quite helpless and unable to hunt for several weeks. During that time, it derives energy from its fat reserves, may lose up to 50% of its body weight, and is particularly vulnerable to predators.
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.