Harp seals are a type of earless seal native to the northern Atlantic and Arctic Ocean, near Greenland. They spend much of their time in the water, only very rarely going on land.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Mammalia
Order - Carnivora
Superfamily - Pinnipeda
Family - Phocidae
Genus - Pagophilus
Species - P. groendlandicus
Common Names – Harp Seal, Saddleback Seal, Greenland Seal
Harp seals are light grey in color, with a disctinctive U-shaped mark on their backs resembling a harp, which gives them their common name. They also usually have a dark grey "hood" on their face. Harp seal babies (called "pups") are white for the first three weeks of life. When fully grown, they can reach over six feet long and weigh over 400 lbs.
Harp seals congregate in the thousands on Arctic ice during the late winter and early spring. Pregnant females give birth to a single pup in February, and then proceed to mate in March or April. Pups are weaned quickly and learn to fend for themselves in just under two weeks.
These seals are very social animals that gather in large, loose groups and migrate up to 2,500 miles. They feed mostly on fish and krill, relying on their keen eyesight for hunting and navigating.
Harp seals are the most commercially hunted seal species. They are hunted for their fur, meat, fat and skin. Though hunting is regulated, hundreds of thousands of seals are taken each year, and the practice is quite controversial.
Despite being commercially hunted, harp seals are a species of "Least Concern". However, some scientists believe current hunting practices are not sustainable and could cause damage to lasting seal populations.
- Princeton Field Guides: Whales, Dolphins and Other Marine Mammals; Shirihai & Jarrett; 2016
- Guide to Marine Mammals of the World; Reeves, Stewart, Clapham & Powell; 2008