Harbor SealPhotos, Pictures, Prints

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Phoca vitulina

Harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) are true seals that dwell along temperate and Arctic coastlines of the Northern hemisphere. They live in coastal waters of the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well the Baltic and North Seas, making them the most wide-ranging of all pinnipeds.

In terms of appearance, seals are brown, tan, or gray, with distinctive V-shaped nostrils. An adult can reach a length of 6 ft (1.8 m) and weigh 290 lbs (132 kg). Interestingly, females outlive males (30-35 years versus 20-25 years).

These mammals stick to familiar resting spots, generally rocky areas where land predators can’t reach them, near a steady supply of fish to eat. When males fight over mates, they do so underwater. Then, females mate with the highest-ranking male. Females bear single pups, which they care for alone.

These seal pups can swim and dive within hours of birth, and they grow quickly on their mothers’ milk. Their global population is between 400,000-500,000. That’s because while seal hunting was once common, it is now mostly illegal.

Harbor seals have a devotion to their choice of resting sites. These resting sites may be rugged, rocky coasts such as the shorelines of Puget Sound or New England, sandy beaches in California, or ice flows in the fjords of Alaska or the Arctic. There, seals prey upon fish such as anchovy, sea bass, herring, and cod, and occasionally upon shrimp, mollusks and squid. Though they are able to dive for up to ten minutes, reaching depths of 1500 ft (457 m) or more, average dives are more likely to be three minutes long at depths of about 66 feet (20 m).

Some of the best locations to photograph harbor seals include La Jolla, California, the San Juan Islands and Vancouver Island in the Pacific Northwest, and Tracy Arm Fjord in Southeast Alaska.

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