We invite you to meet these adorable and tender mammals known as harp seals, Greenland seals, or Pagophilus groenlandicus in scientific terms.
This species usually inhabits in the areas belonging to the Atlantic Ocean specifically to the north and also the Arctic Ocean. Let’s get to know everything about them.
Table Of Content
Harp Seals Main Characteristics
Like all true seals, harp seals have sharp, pointed snouts, small, clawed pectoral fins and small hind fins. Like similar species, they have whiskers with beads on their snout. Their bodies can be described as moderately plumped with a small, slightly pointed head and a moderately thick neck. Their snouts are relatively short and their eyes moderately large.
As for the color their bodies, they are of a silvery white tone, with a black head and a wide black strip on both sides, that are gathered on their shoulders. However, some harp seals may occasionally be of a sooty grey color or with scattered black spots.
They have a wide range of coats through their development. The offspring are born with a white layer of embryonic or lanugo skin, which gives them the nick name of «white coats». Approximately 21 to 22 days later, the pups begin to lose their white fur, creating an «irregular fur». The lanugo is replaced by a silvery white coat with irregular black spots that he keeps for one year. After 12 to 14 months, the black dots become larger and the harp seals of this age are commonly called “Bedlamer”. When they reach sexual maturity (about 5.5 years), black spots converge on a «harp» shaped design, consisting of two black lines that cross the dorsal side of the seals ‘ flanks starting at the pelvis and curving and converging between the shoulders.
Weight and Size
Like hooded seals, the Harp seals present a slight sexual dimorphism, in respect of size and fur. Male Harp seals weigh an average of 135 kg and have a length of 171 to 190 cm. Females weigh an average of 120 kg and measure between 168 and 183 cm long.
In addition to being larger than females, male harp seals usually have a more defined «harp» pattern and their heads are blacker than females. Their heads are flat and wide, and tend to have a rather long but sharp snout.
Harp Seals Reproduction
These creatures are reproduced when they are between 5 and 7 years of age. The males woo the females in the ice, but then go into the water to carry out the copulation. As a result, there is not much that researchers know about this act. What they do know, is that it is possible that the embryo is in the mother, but it doesn´t attach to the uterus for several months. The strongest male will be the one who pair with the available female. It is common for a male to pair with several females. The offspring are born around February each year, and a quick link is made through the nose, between a puppy and his mother. The milk that feeds the puppy has 48% fat which makes it easier to grow at a very fast pace.
Breastfeeding takes place for about 14 days, and then the puppy must fend for his own, as the mother will go to satisfy her own food needs. It is very sad to see these puppies scream when they are left alone, although they calm down over time, so that they can keep the energies in their bodies. They instinctively stay on the shore and live off their fat until they are about 25 days old. However, because of their young age, they are not very good swimmers, so they are very vulnerable. Many of them become prey to other animals, such as polar bears. A large percentage of them end up drowning in the water, as they have no one to teach them to swim and are not strong enough.
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What do the Harp Seals Feed On?
Adult Greenland seals feed on 67 species of fish, including capelin, arctic cod and polar cod, while the juvenile specimens feed mostly on 70 types of marine invertebrates. They dive at depths of around 200 meters, although it is believed that they dive even deeper if they need to search for food.
Harp Seals: Habitat and Distribution
The largest known population of harp seals inhabits the Atlantic, specifically in the northern Western region, just east of Canada. In turn this population is divided into smaller distribution groups; one of these inhabits the coast that corresponds to the peninsula of the Labrador and part of the island of Newfoundland. On the other hand, the other known sub-group of the Atlantic area lives in the vicinity of the Magdalena Islands, specifically in the Gulf of San Lorenzo. All these data correspond to the largest populations of harp seals.
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Harp Seals: Main Threats
As natural predators of the harp seals we can mention the polar bears, the orcas or killer whales and the Greenland shark.
The plight of the harp seals is regrettable and very shameful. Hunting for this species is a practice that began in the year 1500 with the capture of few numbers, which year after year were increasing until reaching the sum of hundreds of thousands a year, the vast majority being offspring. The main reason was to obtain oil, but they also realized that their skin could serve to obtain economic benefits. Due to the high demand, the laws of some regions established quotas and hunting seasons, but this was always rejected by environmental organizations.
These organizations for animal life have pushed a lot to make the atrocity completely banned, but governments have limited themselves to more vigilance, so that hunting techniques are less cruel and that the number of catches is more regulated. However, we know that the massacres continue to be carried out in such a bestial way that it is outrageous for the vast majority of the rest of the world.
Overfishing of their food sources is also part of their threats, as are the tangles that they suffer with drift fishing nets. Moreover, the Oil spills and blood contamination with metals, DDT and PCV are altering their organisms and offspring.
In spite of this, they are the most abundant species in the northern hemisphere and their populations are increasing, but we must take into account the new generations´ true level of health because of the reasons of contamination that we mentioned earlier.
it’s worth this for a simple coat?