Please Enter a Search Term

FAQ

1. What are the differences between seals and sea lions?

2. Why are they called Harp seals?

3. Why do the seals eat ice?

4. How deep are the holding tanks the seals are in?

5. Will the seals be released into the ocean?

6. Why are the seals different colours?

7. Why are the seals in separate pools/the same are pool/on deck?

8. Do the seals stay outside all the time?

9. Do the seals sleep?

10. What do they eat & how much?

11. How deep can they dive?

12. What are the predators of harp seals?

13. Do the seals see under water?

14. How long do they live?

15. How big are the seals?


 

1. What are the differences between seals and sea lions?

Although seals and sea lions both belong to the taxonomic grouping Pinnipeds they are very different. Seals belong to the family Phocidae or true seals and sea lions and fur seals belong to the family Otaridae or eared seals. Seals differ from sea lions in 3 main ways. Seals lack external ear flaps or pinna therefore they have internal ears. Sea lions have external ear flaps covering their ears. Sea lions can rotate their hind flippers forward enhancing their ability to walk on land and climb. When seals are on land they move in an inch worm like motion known as galumphing. Sea lions use their powerful forelimbs to propel themselves forward (similar to a penguin) in the water whereas seals swim using their back flippers for power and fore flippers for steering.

2. Why are they called Harp seals?

Harp seals are called harp seals because of the “wishbone” or “harp” shape marking located on their backs.

3. Why do the seals eat ice?

Marine mammals cannot drink the salt water they live in therefore they have to find a way to obtain freshwater. Harp seals eat ice in order to obtain water. Other marine mammals get their freshwater from their food. Harp seals get water from their food as well but they are the only marine mammals known to eat ice.

4. How deep are the holding tanks the seals are in?

Both circular pools are 2½ m deep (8 feet). The satellite tank is approximately 11/3 m deep (4 feet).

5. Will the seals be released into the ocean?

No. Most of the seals have lived their entire lives at the OSC under human care. If they were returned to the ocean they would not be able to survive on their own and would risk the possibility of being carriers of a human related disease that could be transmitted to other seals, infecting the wild population.

6. Why are the seals different colours?

A Harp seals appearance changes according to their stage of life. They undergo six life stages.

Yellowjacket (birth – few days): Newborn pups have white fur that is tinted yellow from placental fluid.

Whitecoats (few days - ~2 wks): The yellowish tint disappears and the pups have a fluffy white coat. During this time the pups are nursing on their mother’s milk.

Raggedjacket (~2wks - ~6wks): After the pups are weaned they start to molt in patches leaving a dense silver-grey fur with black spots.

Beater: At ~18 days the white coat is completely molted. This stage is known as ‘beater’ because the seals cannot swim yet so they are often seen ‘beating’ at the surface of the water.

Bedlamer: This is the term used for a juvenile seal (not yet sexually mature). This coat develops around 14 months of age and remains until the seal reaches sexual maturity which is when the harp pattern begins to form. This coat is silvery in colour with black spots on the back.

Adult: Males reach sexual maturity at ~7-8 years and females at ~4-6 years. At this time the typical harp coat and black mask around the face will form on the harp seal.

Harp seals also molt annually. They will shed their dead, old skin and fur to make room for a new coat. Each year the coat looks a bit different from the previous year’s.

7. Why are the seals in separate pools/the same are pool/on deck?

The seals are free to move around the enclosure via the ramps and decks as they choose.

8. Do the seals stay outside all the time?

Yes. Harp seals in the wild spend all their time outdoors. They have a thick layer of insulating blubber to keep them warm in the winter.

9. Do the seals sleep?

Yes. Harp seals sleep on land, ice and in the water. In the water they sleep at the surface and often assume a posture known as bottling, their entire bodies remain submerged with just their heads exposed, enabling them to breathe when needed. Harp seals travel long distances. During these journeys they have been observed sleeping in the bottling position for a few minutes at a time.

10. What do they eat & how much?

The harp seals at the OSC are fed Atlantic Herring. They eat anywhere between 2 -6kg of herring a day depending on the time of year (for example the seals don’t eat as much during their molt). They are also fed capelin which they receive in the form of a fish ball.

Harp seals in the wild eat a wide variety of food including capelin, polar and Arctic cod, herring, sculpin, Greenland halibut, redfish and plaice. They also eat such as amphipods, euphausids (including krill), and decapods (including shrimps and prawns).

11. How deep can they dive?

Harp seals can dive up to 330ft (100m).

12. What are the predators of harp seals?

Predators of harp seals are polar bears, orcas, Greenland sharks, and man.

13. Do the seals see under water?

Yes. Harp seals use their eyes to navigate therefore they are very important for their long migratory distances. Their eyes are large proportional to their bodies which allows for better vision. Their eyes are specially adapted for dark and murky waters. They have large rounded lenses adapted for focusing on light that is refracted upon entering the water. Also, their eyes contain a high number of rod cells that specialize for black, white and grey pigments and are sensitive to low light levels. They have a tapetum lucidum, a layer of reflecting plates behind the retina. These plates act as mirrors to reflect light back through the retina a second time, increasing the lights gathering ability of the rod cells.

14. How long do they live?

Harp seals can live anywhere between 20-35 years in the wild. It is uncertain how long they can live in captivity.

15. How big are the seals?

The harp seals weights fluctuate during the year. They are heavier in the colder months when their blubble layer is thicker for insulation and weigh less in the warmer months when more energy is spent on molting and mating and appetite is decreased.

In the wild they are 5.25 to 6.25 ft (1.6 to 1.9 m) in length and on average weigh 180kg (400 lbs).

Back to Seal Facility

Share