Harp seal pups have white fur.
Harp seal pups have white fur.
Photograph by Brian J. Skerry

Harp Seal

Harp seals spend most of their time diving and swimming in the icy waters of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. These sleek swimmers often hunt for fish and crustaceans at 300 feet (90 meters) and may dive to nearly 1,000 feet (300 meters). They are able to remain submerged for up to 15 minutes.

Common Name:
Harp Seal
Scientific Name:
Pagophilus groenlandicus
Group Name:
Colony, rookery
Average Life Span In The Wild:
20 years
5.25 to 6.25 feet
400 pounds

During mating season, female harp seals form large colonies on floating ice and give birth to young. Older seals return annually to pack ice to molt. They lose their pelts and top layers of skin and grow a new fur coat every year.

Harp seals are sometimes called saddleback seals because of the dark, saddlelike marking on the back and sides of their light yellow or gray bodies of the adults.

Baby seals are born on pack ice floating in the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. Harp seal mothers are able to identify their babies by their smell. The pups don't have any blubber at birth, but quickly gain weight nursing on high-fat mother's milk. When the pups reach about 80 pounds (36 kilograms), their mothers stop nursing them. The pups go without food for about six weeks and can lose about half their body weight until they dive in and begin to hunt for themselves. The young seals are famous for their snowy white coats.