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Pinnipednesday - Erignathus barbatus Edition

No better way to keep cool in the summertime than writing about animals that spend their lives in the Arctic.

The Bearded Seal (Erignathus barbatus) is a medium-sized seal (though they are the largest seal species in the Arctic) whose name refers both to its heavy jaw and its appearance of facial hair. It has many long face whiskers that curl downward when dry. They are found primarily in Arctic waters and waters adjacent to the Arctic Ocean, but fossil records indicate that their ancestors lived as far south as South Carolina during the Pleistocene epoch. The Inuit name for Bearded Seals is ugjuk (plural ugjuit).


Unlike some other pinnipeds, sexual dimorphism between adult males and adult females is not extremely pronounced. Bearded Seals grow up to 8.9 feet (2.7 meters) in body length, and top out at about 948 pounds (430 kg) in weight. They have squared-off front flippers and are one of the few seal species to have two pairs of teats. They have extremely tough skin, and they are one of the species hunted by Inuit less for food and more as a staple building material. Their skin can be used to fashion whips, tents, the skin of a wood-framed boat, shoes and dog sled harnesses. Polar bears also prey on Bearded Seals.

When in the water, Bearded Seals stick close to the ocean floor, feeding on fish, shrimp, crabs, clams and squid. They use their long whiskers as feelers, poking through the soft, silty bottom. Their preference for this type of feeding means that they do not often stray into very deep water, depths of 980 feet (300 meters) at most. When they are yearling pups, however, they are more adventurous and will dive as deep as 1,480 feet (450 meters).


Bearded Seals give birth to their pups on small ice floes floating in shallow waters. They'll swim for the first time only hours after being born, and if everything goes well will grow at a rate of 7 pounds (3 kg) per day. The mating cycle begins again when the pups are close to being weaned, but mothers are still protective of their pups even after they begin to ovulate. Like the Baikal Seal, Bearded Seals have delayed implantation, which means that while the total gestation time is 11 months, their active gestation time (after the blastocyst has implanted) is only 9 months. Male Bearded Seals will "sing" during the mating season, hoping to attract females and warn off any rival males.


In general, Bearded Seals are solitary. Even in high population densities they will live apart from each other, only coming together during the mating season. Though they are not considered to be a threatened species, like other animals that live in the Arctic they face danger from overfishing and climate change.

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