Often seen from expedition ships in the Arctic Oceans and north Atlantic, harp seals are grey bodies of blobs often caught lying around languidly while their white-coated pups play in the waters. The name of this species derived from the harp-shaped markings on the backs of the dark-coloured adults. Harp seals have existed for over 20 million years, thus these wide-eyed, earless beasts garnered the right to be featured as this week’s Wildlife of the Week:

Species: Pagophilus groenlandicus

Class: Mammalia

IUCN Status: Endangered

Diet: Mainly fish like Arctic cod, herrings and crustaceans like crabs and shrimps

Size: Adults can grow up to two-metres long, weighing from 150-kilograms to 190-kilograms

Behaviour: Behavioural patterns vary due to harp seal location, for example a harp seal in the Northwest Atlantic will travel southwards to Greenland in early summer and continue travelling south reaching as far as Hudson Bay by late summer, whereas those breeding near East Greenland will be found feeding in Northern Iceland and Northern Norway. In total, the seals can travel between 2,500 to 4,000 kilometres each year

Distribution: The harp seal population is divided into three groups: The Western North Atlantic herd is the biggest group located off eastern Canada and further divided into two groups based on breeding location

Followed by the Front herd and the Gulf herd, the former breeds off the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland, while the latter breeds near the Magdalen Islands

Ecosystem: In late February, female seals gather in groups to give birth on the ice and differentiate their offspring by a distinctive scent. From this day onwards she will feed the pup

5 Fast Facts:

  • These carnivores do not chew their food, but swallow them down in large chunks
  • Some mother harp seals have been observed to abruptly leave halfway through weaning and never return. The abandoned pup must attempt to fend for itself from predators, and becomes largely inactive to conserve body fats until about 25 days old, when they are able to catch food for themselves
  • Harp seals have delayed implantation, which means that the fertilised egg does not implant itself to the uterus immediately, but will float for about three and a half months
  • In 2015, Canadian Government permitted the killing of nearly 470,000 seals to obtain their fur. The seals were skinned alive and their remaining carcasses cast aside towhere they slowly died from their injuries
  • Besides the fur, seal hunters also sell their blubber, used to make “seal oil” health supplements. Seal penises are sold in Asian markets to promote male virility and strengthen the kidneys