Scientific Name: Phoca vitulina
Harbor seal pups are born able to swim and only after a few days, they 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.
STATUS: The harbor seal is listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
HABITAT: Harbor seals make their homes in temperate coastal habitats including beaches and rocky outcrops on the coasts of North America (from Baja California to the Arctic on the west coast and from New England to the Arctic on the east coast).
DIET: The typical diet of a harbor seal includes fish, crabs, shrimp, squid, and has even been known to include some kinds of seabirds. Even though they typically feed on whatever they can find in the shallow waters off the coast, harbor seals can also dive up to 500 meters, greatly extending their meal options.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Harbor seals are typically 5.5 to 6.5 feet in length and weight about 245 pounds, with males being slightly larger than females overall. Even though the colors of harbor seals vary between individuals, they typically range from blue to a grey-black with a light underside and dark spots throughout. They have short snouts and round heads, with short forelimbs and long hind limbs. As is common with “true seals,” the harbor seal has no visible ear flaps (called pinna), however they do have distinct ear canals visible behind the eye.
Seal or Sea Lion
Because of their similar look and overlapping habitat, seals and their relatives, the sea lions, are often confused with one another. There are multiple differences between these two species that will help you distinguish between these similar marine delights and here are a few noticeable ones:
First, seals are part of the “true seal” family that characteristically has no earflaps, but rather earholes located behind the eyes. Sea lions, on the other hand, are part of the eared seals and, true to their name, have visible earflaps on the sides of their head.
Second, seals have short forelimbs and are unable to walk sturdily on land. 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.
Third, seals use a powerful hind flipper to power themselves through the water while only using its forelimbs for steering. The sea lion, on the other hand, uses its large forelimbs to propel and maneuver itself through the water (similar to how a bird uses its wings to fly).
Whenever you see a marine mammal come pay a visit on a shore near you, you will be able to use these definite differences distinguish whether the beauty you are looking at is a “true seal” or its close relative, the sea lion.