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Harp seal picture and information, Saddle-back, Greenland seal (Phoca groenlandica)


Harp seal picture and information, Saddle-back, Greenland seal (Phoca groenlandica)The black head, gray body, and large dorsal ring of the male harp seal are strongly distinctive markings in a group generally characterized by plain dull colors. The harp seal is a large species, the old males weighing from 600 to 800 pounds.

It is nearly circumpolar in distribution, but its area of greatest abundance extends from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Greenland, and thence eastward in that part of the Arctic Ocean lying north of Europe and western Siberia. Its reported presence in the Arctic basin north of Bering Straits or along the coasts to the southward is yet to be confirmed. It is an offshore species, migrating southward with the ice pack in fall to the coast of Newfoundland and returning northward with the pack after the breeding season in spring. For a day or two during the fall migration, when these seals are passing certain points on the coast of Labrador, the sea is said to be thickly dotted with their heads as far as the eye can reach, all moving steadily southward.

The harp seal is extremely gregarious and gathers on the pack ice well offshore during March and April to breed. The main breeding grounds are off Newfoundland and off Jan Mayen Land in the Arctic. During the breeding season, in the days of their abundance, they gathered in enormous closely packed herds, sometimes containing several hundred thousand animals and covering the ice for miles.

The hunting of harp and other seals on the pack ice is an occupation calling for such splendid qualities of virile hardihood in the face of constant danger to life that its brutality has been little considered. In this perilous work great numbers of hunters have been cast away and frozen miserably on the drifting ice and many a sealing ship has been lost with all hands.

Off Newfoundland the young harp seal is born early in March, wearing a woolly white coat. At first it is tenderly cared for by its mother, but before the end of April it has learned to swim and is left to care for itself. The young do not enter the water until they are nearly two weeks old and require several days of practice before they learn to swim well. The adults are notable for their swiftness in the water. In the tremendous herds of these seals the continual cries uttered by old and young is said to produce a steady roar which may be heard for several miles. Their food is mainly fish. Man is their worst enemy, but they are also preyed upon by sharks and killer whales.