International Wildlife Encyclopedia - Vol. 8

By Maurice Burton; Robert Burton | Go to book overview

HARP SEAL

THE HARP SEAL, sometimes known as the Greenland seal or saddleback, is found in the extreme northern parts of the Atlantic and nearby areas of the Arctic Ocean. Male and female seals are about the same size, up to 6 feet (1.8 m) long and 300 pounds (135 kg) in weight. Harp seals are pale gray with very distinctive markings on their face and back. These markings are generally black in the male and dark gray in the female. Sometimes the female’s markings are spotted rather than a continuous band of color. The darker markings consist of a dark area on the front of the face that reaches back as far as the eyes and the characteristic “harp” marking on the back and flanks. This is a horseshoe of darker color that extends from the tail forward along the flanks, sweeping upward just behind the foreflippers to meet on the top of the back. This also gives the seal the name “saddleback.”

There are three main populations of harp seals. The smallest population lives in the seas north of Jan Mayen Island in the Arctic Ocean. The next largest is confined to Novaya Zemlya and the White Sea off the north coast of the Russian Federation. The third, and by far the largest population, lives around the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland, Canada. Harp seals are sometimes recorded father south.

The Newfoundland population is the best known scientifically as it has been intensively studied, principally by Canadian scientists. Most of the information that follows applies to this population of harp seals. However, the situation is much the same in the other two populations, although the dates of pupping and molting differ and their migrations follow different routes.


Following the pack ice

The life history of the harp seal is very closely tied to movements of the pack ice. The adult harp seals move south around November, traveling from the open sea between Baffin Island, northwest Canada and West Greenland, where they have spent the summer months. The seals pass down the coast of Labrador and split into two distinct groups. One group remains on the ice in the Labrador current to the north of Belle Isle. The other migrates around Newfoundland and onto the ice in the southern part of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in Canada.


Adults lead the way

At this point the migration consists almost entirely of adult seals. Younger animals follow later on. They haul out onto the pack ice and move away from the edge into the hummocked area, where there are ridges of ice. Here they find greater protection from the elements and from predators.

The Newfoundland population pups are born between late January and early April, the bulk of them between February 20 and March 5. At this time most of the adults on the ice are females, the males joining them soon after the pups are born. The actual timing of the births

There are three main
populations of harp
seals. The largest of
these is found off the
coasts of Labrador
and Newfoundland
.

-1139-

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International Wildlife Encyclopedia - Vol. 8
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents iii
  • Golden Oriole 1012
  • Golden Potto 1014
  • Goldfinch 1016
  • Goldfish 1018
  • Goral 1021
  • Gorilla 1023
  • Goshawk 1027
  • Gouldian Finch 1030
  • Grackle 1032
  • Grasshopper 1035
  • Grassland 1038
  • Grass Snake 1042
  • Gray Fox 1045
  • Grayling 1047
  • Gray Seal 1049
  • Gray Whale 1052
  • Gray Wolf 1054
  • Great White Shark 1058
  • Grebe 1061
  • Greenfinch 1064
  • Greenhouse Frog 1066
  • Green Lizard 1068
  • Green Turtle 1070
  • Greylag Goose 1073
  • Groundhog 1075
  • Ground Squirrel 1078
  • Grouper 1081
  • Grouse 1084
  • Grunion 1087
  • Gudgeon 1089
  • Guenon 1091
  • Guillemot 1094
  • Guinea Fowl 1097
  • Guinea Pig 1099
  • Guitarfish 1102
  • Gundi 1104
  • Guppy 1106
  • Gurnard 1108
  • Gyrfalcon 1110
  • Haddock 1113
  • Hairless Bat 1115
  • Hairstreak Butterflies 1117
  • Hake 1119
  • Halibut 1121
  • Hamerkop 1123
  • Hammerhead Shark 1126
  • Hamster 1129
  • Harbor Seal 1132
  • Hare 1135
  • Harp Seal 1139
  • Harpy Eagle 1142
  • Harrier 1145
  • Hartebeest 1147
  • Index 1150
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