Scientific Name: Phoca vitulina
Status: Least Concern
Habitat: beaches and rocky outcrops of North American coastline
Diet: Seals are carnivores, eating fish, crabs, squid, and shrimp.
Length: 5.5–6.5 feet
Weight: 245 pounds
Harbor seal pups able to swim at birth and after only a few days are able to dive for up to two minutes. Harbor seals are part of the “true seal” family, characterized by their lack of external ears as well as limited locomotion on land due to small forelimbs.
Because of their similar appearance and overlapping habitat, seals and sea lions are often confused with one another. However, each has distinguishing features:
- Seals have no external earflaps, but rather earholes located behind the eyes. Sea lions belong to the eared seal family and, true to their name, have visible earflaps.
- Seals have short forelimbs and move clumsily on land. (They are said to “galumph”—a word borrowed from Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky.”) Sea lions, though, have large forelimbs that they are able to tuck underneath their bodies when on land, allowing them to walk on all fours.
- Seals use a powerful hind flippers to power themselves through the water, using their forelimbs for steering. Sea lions use their large forelimbs to propel and maneuver through the water while their rear flippers act as a rudder.