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Harbor Seal

Curious harbor seals are sociable in the ocean, where their grace and speed shines. These friendly overtures belie their shy nature ashore, where their mobility is limited to an undulating belly-flop. As a result, harbor seals spook if visitors venture too close, abandoning pups or running into hungry ocean predators along the way.

Ranging from 250 to 300 pounds and 5 to 6 feet in length, harbor seals are covered with short, stiff hair. Their coloring varies, and individuals are silver-grey, dark-brown, or black with contrasting white or dark speckles.

Harbor seals live in the northern hemisphere on both shores of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In the Pacific they range from to Alaska to Baja California. They can be seen “hauled out” on land in groups of a few to a few thousand to digest food, rest, breed, or nurse their young. Amazingly, harbor seal pups can swim immediately after they are born, allowing mothers to give birth on land or in the water.
Harbor seals spend 80 percent of their time in the water. They feed voraciously, searching out fish, shellfish, squid and crustaceans to swallow whole.

Orcas, sharks, bears, coyotes, foxes, bald eagles, Stellar sea lions and even some indigenous tribes enjoy a good harbor seal dinner. Incredibly, some seals evade these predators long enough to live 30 years in the wild.

Harbor seal numbers are healthy and increasing, with the exception of the Gulf of Alaska population, which has not recovered its historical abundance and may be declining.

If you see what you think is an injured or stranded harbor seal, keep your distance from it and call the Marine Mammal Center rescue hotline: 831.633.6298.

– Clark Tate

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