MERR Institute, Inc. 801 Pilottown Road | Lewes, DE 19958 | (302) 228-5029 | Email

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SEAL SPECIES

Seals dot the Delaware beaches, frequently just looking for a spot to rest after feasting on various fish, shellfish and crustaceans near the ocean floor.

Harbor Seal
(Phoca vitulina)

Anatomy:

  • Lack external ear flaps; blue-gray in color with light and dark speckles; have short forelimbs; short, concave snouts

Size:

  • Adults are about 6 ft in length and can weigh up to 245 lbs

Behavior:

  • Haul out on land; rest with head on surface and flippers elevated

Prey:

  • Fish, shellfish, crustaceans

Reproduction:

  • Mate at sea; gives birth during the spring and summer months; pups are nursed for about 24 days and can swim right after being born

Location:

  • Temperate coastal habitats; non-migratory; occur on both east and west coasts of the U.S.; most common seal found along the U.S. east coast

Status:

  • Candidate

Threats:

  • Entanglement in fishing nets, pollution, human disturbance

Harp Seal
(Pagophilus groenlandicus)

Anatomy:

  • Lack external ear flaps; robust body with small, flat head; narrow snout with eight pairs of teeth in upper and lower jaws; front flippers have strong claws; back flippers have smaller, narrower claws; light gray in color with a black face and harp shaped black saddle on their backs (refers to common name); pups have long, white fur and molt as they grow older

Size:

  • Adults are 5-6 ft in length and can weigh about 300 lbs; pups are less than 3 ft when born and can weigh about 25 lbs

Behavior:

  • Seasonally migrate in large groups; migrate north to Arctic summer feeding grounds after molting; maximum dive depth is 1,200 ft; maximum dive duration is about 16 minutes; use their front flippers to move along the surface of the land

Prey:

  • Small fish and krill

Reproduction:

  • Females give birth from late February to mid-March; pups nurse on milk for 12 days to acquire blubber

Location:

  • Found in pack ice in North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans; can occur from Maine to Delaware:

Threats:

  • Hunting, entanglement in fishing nets, habitat destruction, pollution, human disturbance

Gray Seal
(Halichoerus grypus)

Anatomy:

  • Females are a silver-gray in color with dark spots; males are dark gray in color with silver spots and a long, arched nose; pups are composed of white fur for three weeks until they molt; lack external ear flaps; short forelimbs

Size:

  • Adults can be 7.5-10 ft in length and can weigh between 550-880 lbs; pups weigh about 35 lbs when born

Behavior:

  • Males compete for females; maximum dive depth is 1,560 ft; are often found in a vertical position in the water with just their heads showing; social feeding is often used

Prey:

  • Fish, crustaceans, squid, octopus, seabirds

Reproduction:

  • Gather in large groups for mating; males compete with each other for females; gestation period for females is 11.5 months; pups are born in January-February

Location:

  • Found in coastal waters; Western north Atlantic, Eastern north Atlantic, Baltic Sea; can be found on sandbars, icebergs, islands, ice shelves, and rocky coasts

Threats:

  • Hunting, pollution, entanglement in fishing nets, human disturbance

Hooded Seal
(Cystophora cristata)

Anatomy:

  • Adults have silver-gray fur with dark blotches, and a black head; pups are blue-gray in color; adult males have a bi-lobed nasal cavity called a hood that when inflated is red in color to attract females and scare away other males

Size:

  • Males can be 8 ft in length and weigh up to 660 lbs; females can be 7 ft in length and weigh up to 440 lbs; pups are 3 ft when born and weigh about 55 lbs

Behavior:

  • Migratory and can drift long distances; unsocial; aggressive and territorial; dive to about 325-1,950 feet deep for 15 min

Prey:

  • Crustaceans, squid, fish, starfish, and mussels

Reproduction:

  • Spring is when they gather to breed for 2-3 weeks; pups are weaned in 3-5 days after birth; molt before starting migration for the year

Location:

  • Found on pack ice and in deep waters; colder climates are the best for their survival; inhabit the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans

Threats:

  • Hunting, entanglement in fishing nets