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Pinnipednesday - Pagophilus groenlandicus Edition

Halloween is coming, people. My Halloween decorations accidentally got themselves out of storage and found some good decoration places. I was powerless to stop them.

The Harp Seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus) can be found in the northern parts of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the Arctic Ocean. Its scientific name means "ice-lover from Greenland," and it its common name refers to the the large dark splotch on their backs, which sometimes looks like a harp. They are also called saddleback seals. Harp Seal pups are born with lush white coats, but shed their natal coats for a silver-gray one after their first two weeks of life.


Adult male Harp Seals can usually be distinguished by the dark color bands running down their sides, and the fact that they are slightly larger than females. They can grow up to 6.2 feet (1.9 meters) in body length, weighing almost 300 pounds (135 kg). Female Harp Seals are slightly shorter, at 5.9 feet (1.8 meters) in body length, and weigh about 260 pounds (120 kg). In order to survive in such a cold climate, they maintain a thick layer of blubber to help insulate them from the freezing temperatures and sustain them when food is scarce. Their flippers also function as heat exchangers, allowing the seals to release or conserve heat as needed. When hauled out on the ice, the seals can press their front and hind flippers together to reduce the amount of heat they will lose.

Harp Seals have large, close-set eyes that make vision one of its primary advantages to living in an arctic environment. Their eyes are extremely sensitive to light, and their mobile pupils allow them to make adjustments to cut down on the reflected glare from the ice and snow. They also lack tear ducts, which means that their eyes are protected by a constant layer of lubrication. These seals spend much of their time in the water and are very social animals, forming large colonies by a bunch of smaller social groups basically hanging out in the same place. The diet of Harp Seals varies depending on location and available prey, since they are a migratory species. In general, however, it will consist of fish and crustaceans.


Mating and pupping season usually takes place between February and April. Like many other species of pinniped, female Harp Seals are able to delay implantation of fertilized embryos for up to three months so that they can coordinate when they give birth. The total gestation period is just under 12 months. They will nurse newborn pups with extremely fat-rich milk for about 12 days, helping it to build up that crucial layer of blubber to protect it from the cold. After that short time, the pup is weaned, and will spend the next six weeks fasting on the ice. They are only able to start hunting for themselves when the pack ice melts.


Harp Seals are currently considered to be a species of least concern by the IUCN. In the past it has been heavily hunted, as their breeding sites and ice holes are easy to access and employ ambush techniques. Their natural predators include polar bears, orca, and sharks, but they have also been a crucial source of food and fur for First Nations people for hundreds of years. Yearly quotas are placed on the hunting of Harp Seals to prevent a decline in population. Harp Seals face other threats as well, as they can become tangled in fishing nets, and they are also vulnerable to climate change because the pack ice plays such an important role in their life cycle.


Source for all images used in this post.

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