Harp seals are pinnipeds, which mean that they are able to live on land and in the water. They are very social creatures who stay together in large herds but only form bonds with their young.
Ancestors of the seals were most likely dogs. Perhaps that is why their young are called pups. Creatures that lived on sea coast so long ago used the food of the sea to survive and their bodies became adapted to that way of life.
Adult Harp Seal
Bodies became streamlined for speed in the water. Feet became webbed as swimming was of major importance to survival. Blubber became a factor in survival.
They live in the North Atlantic Ocean. They are excellent divers and the blubber helps protect their bodies from the pressure of water when diving deep.
Their lungs are designed to collapse during deep diving so on the way back to the surface they will not suffer the pain of the bends. They can stay under water for over a half hour. Their heart rate slows and their blood only flows to organs of priority.
Like whales, they use a method of communication called echolocation.
Sounds from the seal swimming bounce off objects in the water, whilst the seal, having very keen hearing, knows where the object is.
Harp seals have coats of very short hair, not fur. Its name comes from the harp shaped band which crosses it’s shoulders the color of the band is a bit darker than their fur and the males have a darker band than females.
They have nostrils which automatically close when they dive.The nostrils stay closed when they sleep under water, floating beneath the surface.
Their body warns them when the oxygen levels drop and without waking, they drift upward to get some breaths of air and nostrils close again as they go back under water where they feel safer sleeping.
Once a female is five years old she will mate.Gestation is seven and a half months.She gives birth on the ice to one baby.
The distinct scent of her own pup is how she will later find it when they rejoin the huge herd where there are so many newborn pups.
The mother’s milk is very fat rich so the pup can begin to make blubber. The pups are about three feet long at birth. They can gain as much as ten lbs. a week.
Their babyhood is short — about three weeks. They are weaned and on their own before being a month old. The little ones molt at weeks. The colors of harp seal coats change as they age.
When the pups are left alone, they have a rough time adjusting to that.They seek out other pups for comfort.
Blubber keeps them nourished as they don’t eat or drink until finally hunger and curiosity gets them into the actual water and when the panic of that turns to instinct and they swim, then they begin to adjust well.
The pups are in the water sometime in April and that is a great time for good feeding on fish and plankton and even plants.
They watch and learn from the adults and become part of the herd.
They do not swim fast, but make a journey of a few thousand miles to spend the summer where their ancestors did.
The diet consists of salmon, herring, shrimp, eels, crabs, octopus, and crustaceans of the sea.
The seal have become victims of pollution, of fisherman and their nets, and of seal hunters. Like all of our animals, they are a valuable part of our ecology and as wondrous living creatures they deserve our full protection.