Harp Seal

Jeff Foott/DCI |

Harp seals migrate in large groups as much as five thousand miles (8,000 km) from feeding grounds in the north to breeding grounds in the south.

They spend about half the year in the north, feeding on fish and invertebrates.

In the spring, thousands of females congregate on pack ice to give birth and nurse their white-furred pups.

Following weaning, the pups shed their white fur, which is replaced by silver-gray pelage with dark spots. After successive molts, the spots are replaced by the typical harp-shaped marking on the back.

By June the harp seals are moving northward again, swimming and cavorting in the frigid water.

There are three populations of this gregarious seal: one off Newfoundland, one in the Arctic Ocean, and one off Greenland.

Animal Facts

Name: Harp Seal (Phoca groenlandica)

Family: Phocidae (Earless Seals)

Range: Northern Atlantic and Arctic oceans

Habitat: Arctic waters and ice floes

Diet: Cod, capelin, herring, halibut, and small crabs

Total Length: 4.6 to 6.6 feet (1.4 to 2 m)

Weight: 220 to 320 pounds (100 to 145 kg)

Life Cycle: Mating February to April, implantation delayed 60 to 90 days; gestation 210 to 240 days, one pup born

Description: Silver-white fur; black head; dark markings on the back that resemble harps; wide face; close-set eyes

Conservation Status: Common