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Leopard seal picture and information, Harbor seal (Phoca vitulina)

Leopard seal picture and information, Harbor seal (Phoca vitulina)The harbor seal, one of the smallest of the hair seals, attaining a length of only 5 or 6 feet, is one of the most widely distributed and best known of its kind.

It is a circumpolar species, formerly ranging well south on the European coast and to the Carolinas on the American side of the Atlantic, though now more restricted in its southern extension. On the North Pacific it ranges south to the coast of Japan on the Asiatic side and to Lower California on the American side.

Throughout its range the harbor seal haunts the coast-line, frequenting rocky points, islets, bays, harbors, and the lower courses of rivers. It commonly frequents the sandy bars exposed at low tide about the mouths of rivers, and has been known to ascend the St. Lawrence to Lake Champlain and Lake Ontario, and the Yukon to several hundred miles above its mouth.

It is still a common and well-known animal on the coast of Maine and eastern Canada and about many harbors on the Pacific coast. It appears to be a non-migratory species and in northern waters frequents the pack ice along shore in winter. Where the pack is unbroken, the seal makes breathing holes through the ice, which it visits at intervals, and where it is hunted by the Eskimos.

It is not polygamous and is not so strongly gregarious as some of the other seals. That it has some social instinct is evident, however, since it commonly gathers in small herds on the same sand spits, rocky points, and islets. The young are born in early spring and at first are entirely covered with a woolly white coat. The mother is devoted to the "pup" and shows the deepest anxiety if danger threatens.

The flesh and blubber of this seal are highly prized by the Eskimos as the most palatable of all the seals, and the skin is valued for clothing and for making strong rawhide lines used for nets and other purposes. On the Alaskan coast of Bering Sea in fall the Eskimos capture many seals in nets set off rocky points, just as gill nets are set in the same places in spring for salmon.

Owing to the presence of this seal along so many inhabited coasts, much has been written concerning its habits, especially as observed about the shores of the British Isles. Where not disturbed it shows little fear and will swim about boats or ships, raising its head high out of water and gazing steadily with large intelligent eyes at the object of its curiosity; but when hunted it becomes exceedingly shy and wary. All who have held the harbor seal in captivity agree in praising its intelligence. It becomes very docile, often learning a variety of amusing tricks, and develops great affection for its keeper.

The small size of this seal and its limited numbers are elements which save it from extensive commercial hunting and may preserve it far into the future to add life and interest to many a rocky coast.