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Seal photos and video footage were taken by Dyanna Lambourn, WDFW biologist

Cascadia Research Collective


Special thanks to Dept. of Social and Health Services
 
Live Sealcam
Sealcam
Pre-recorded Videos
Harbor seal mother giving birth to a pup and their first swim
Harbor seal mother protecting her newborn pup from Bald Eagles
Harbor seal mom and pup interactions
Tips for viewing harbor seals
Other wildlife sightings at harbor seal rookery
Gertrude Island: Harbor Seals, a Raccoon and a Coyote
Sharing the Shore with Harbor Seal Pups in Washington State
Interview with Dyanna Lambourn, WDFW Biologist
Want to Learn More?
Western Washington SealCam Blog NEW!
General Natural History of the Harbor Seal
Seal Research and Studies
Sharing the Shore with Harbor Seal Pups in Washington State WDFW & NOAA
The Life of a Harbor Seal Pup: From Birth to Weaning Photographic Story
Life and Death on Seal Haul Out Photographic Series
Reports and Abstracts
Seroprevalence of Toxoplasma gondii in Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina) in Southern Puget Sound, Washington
Temporal trends in contaminants In Puget Sound harbor seal

SEALS

Harbor Seal
Phoca vitulina richardii

Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Pinnipedia
Family: Phocidae (earless seals or true seals)

General Natural History
Phoca vitulina means "sea calf," or "sea dog." Harbor seals are widely distributed throughout temperate and arctic waters of the northern hemisphere. Harbor seal are the most common and widely distributed pinniped in Washington waters. They are frequently sighted by boaters, ferry passengers and other users of the marine environment. This relatively small, stocky seal is considered a non-migratory species, breeding and feeding in the same area throughout the year. In water, harbor seals use their hind flippers for propulsion, while on land their method of locomotion is a caterpillar-like undulation utilizing their fore flippers for momentum.

Male and female harbor seals are of similar size (to 250 lbs.) and coloration. Coat (pelage) color is typically a light colored base pelage with dark spots although some individuals have a reversed pattern of mostly black or dark brown with white spots. Occasionally a "red coat" harbor seal may be seen. The red pelage coloration may result from deposits of precipitated iron oxide on the hair.

Harbor seals generally do not live longer than thirty years although captive seals have been known to live up to thirty-three years. Females tend to out live males and both genders incur their highest mortality rate during the first few months after birth.

Harbor seals and other marine mammals are at the top of the food chain and frequently have high concentrations of various pollutants in their blubber (subcutaneous fat) layer. High concentrations of chemical compounds like PCBs and DDT have been demonstrated to negatively affects the health of harbor seals and other marine mammals, the WDFW is continuing this research which it began in the 1970's

FOOD
Harbor seals are opportunistic feeders. Their diet varies from one area to another and throughout the year depending on prey availability, and includes: a wide variety of fishes and cephalopods,. They generally feed close to shore or in shallow waters, and may feed at specific or preferred sites on a regular basis. Seal may actively feed in fresh water (rivers and lakes) connect to estuaries. Seals have been observed feeding during daylight hours as well as night.

HABITAT
Harbor seals may inhabit shallow areas of estuaries, rivers, and places where sandbars, beaches, or rocks are uncovered at low tide. Harbor seals use a variety of sites to rest or "haul-out" along coastal and inland waters these include: intertidal sand bars and mudflats in estuaries, intertidal rocks and reefs, beaches, log-booms, docks and floats in most marine areas. They prefer gently sloped beaches and low lying flat spots since unlike their cousin the sea lion, a seal unable to rotate its hind flippers underneath its body.

Marine mammals, including harbor seals, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/prot_res/laws/MMPA/MMPA.html) therefore it is illegal to hunt, harm or harass any species of marine mammal in U.S. waters. Many fish species consumed by harbor seals are also commercially fished, and through interactions with fisheries seals can become entangled and drown in fishing nets or harmed by different type of gear. Further, human generated beach trash, such as strap banding used on cardboard boxes.

Pups and Pupping
Pups are born in the spring and summer and the timing of the peak birth period varies from area to area. Pups are born along the coast Oregon during in mid-March; along the coastal estuaries of the Columbia River, Willapa Bay, and Grays Harbor from mid-April through June; Olympic Peninsula coast from May through July; San Juan Islands and eastern bays of Puget Sound from late June through August; southern Puget Sound from mid-July through September; and Hood Canal from August through January. Females produce one pup per year, beginning at age four or five. The majority of pups are born at protected haul-out sites but a female may give birth anywhere that there is easy access to the waters edge. Pups are precocious at birth, capable of swimming and following their mother into the water immediately after birth. Nursing pups remain with their mothers for about 4 to 6 weeks and then are weaned to forage and survive on their own. A nursing pup may triple its birth weight by the time it is weaned and uses its stored fat reserves as it learns to feed on its own. Pups frequently call to their mother with a sheep like "m-a-a-a"; adults make a variety of sounds including. Grunts, growls and barks.


Table1. Distinguishing characteristics of Pacific pinnipeds.
CHARACTERISTIC Harbor Seals CA Sea Lions N.Elephant Seals
Ears "hole"
(no flaps)
external flaps "hole"
(no flaps)
Hind-flippers lack flexibility rotate under bodies lack flexibility
Vocalizations seldom
(pups only)
loud "bark" "bull" sound
Pup's body shape football elongated football
Whiskers shorter long/prominent shorter
Sand "flipping" none some regularly
Coat ("pelage") spotted coloration uniform coloration uniform coloration
Average adult
male weight
80 kg
(175lbs)
350 kg
(750 lbs)
2400 kg
(5000 lbs)
Average adult
male length
1.5 m
(5 ft)
2.4 m
(8 ft)
4.5 m
(15 ft)


Related Links
People for Puget Sound Alaska Dept of Fish & Game - Harbor Seal Info
Bibliography and links Seal Conservation Society
Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Network- Washington Cascadia
Marine Mammal Protection Act National Marine Mammal Laboratory
NMFS marine mammal viewing guidelines San Fransico Harbor Seals and Links
Be Whale Wise: Whale Watching Guidelines (PDF) Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife
See More Wildlife: Elephant Seal and Steller Sea Lion Cam National Marine Fisheries Service
Marine Mammal Center Whale museum
Boater Education Guidelines: Best Practices for Viewing Marine Wildlife (PDF)