Monday, November 7, 2011

The Harbor Seal

Also known as the common seal, the harbor seal is described as a “true seal” because it has small flippers and can only move on land by flopping its body. Harbor seals live along the coastlines of most every continent in the Northern Hemisphere and have been spotted from Florida to the Arctic Circle. The most widely distributed of all seals, there is an estimated population of 500,000 harbor seals worldwide.
The harbor seal received its name because it usually does not venture very far away from the coast. Although they are capable of diving to over 1,500 feet and being underwater for up to 40 minutes, harbor seals prefer to stick to shallower waters and can even be found upstream in large rivers occasionally. They spend about half their time in the water and spend the remainder of the day “hauled-out”, which is another term for resting on shore. They usually choose a rocky coastline, sandy beach or ice-pack for their haul-out site depending on geographical location. Harbor seals are social animals and usually rest in groups, but they do not congregate in groups as large as some other types of seals.

The harbor seal is a carnivore and feeds on a variety of fish, octopus, squid, shrimp, crabs and mollusks and seabirds, all depending on the prey native to its environment. Although carnivorous and quite large, Harbor seals pose no threat to humans. While very capable swimmers, when hauled-out on land Harbor seals are very vulnerable and will often rush back into the water if approached. 
Once heavily hunted by people, the harbor seal is a protected animal in almost every nation now and its population is on the rebound. However, urbanization of coastal areas remains a threat to these animals. In order to rest and molt, harbor seals need to spend a lot of time out of the water, and if a human presence is detected they will often not haul out. If construction occurs at or near a usual haul-out spot, the seals will sometimes abandon it permanently, which could threaten their population.

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