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The bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus), also called the square flipper seal, is a medium-sized pinniped that lives in and near the Arctic Ocean. It gets its generic name from two Greek words (eri and gnathos) that refer to its heavy jaw. Its beard is its most characteristic feature. That’s because this animal displays conspicuous and abundant whiskers. When dry, these whiskers curl elegantly.
Fossils show that during the Pleistocene epoch, bearded seals ranged as far south as South Carolina.
This seal is earless, and has square fore flippers. Adults are greyish-brown, darker on the back. Occasionally, the face and neck are reddish brown. That said, bearded seal pups are born with greyish-brown natal fur with scattered patches of white. Interestingly, the bearded seal has two pairs of teats. This is a feature it shares with monk seals.
In terms of size, bearded seals reach about 2.1 to 2.7 m (6 ft 11 in to 8 ft 10 in) and from 200 to 430 kg (441 to 948 lb) in weight. However, the female is larger than the male.
Bearded seals are a major food source for polar bears. They are also an important food source for the Inuit of the Arctic coast.