Scientific Name: Pinnipedia (Seals
and Sea Lions)
> Order: Carnivora
> Family: Phocidae
> Genus: Pagophilus
> Species: P. groenlandicus
Description: Silver-white fur with black head; dark markings
on the back that resemble harps; wide face; with round close set eyes.
Range: North Atlantic and Arctic
Oceans from northern Russia, to Newfoundland and
the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada.
Habitat: Open sea
and edges of ice packs.
Average Weight: Males 290 lbs, with
females being slightly smaller.
Average Length: Up to 5.5 ft (between
1.7m and 130kg) in length.
Diet: Cod, capelin, herring, halibut
and small crabs.
Gestation Period: 11.5 months,
with 4.5 months dormancy of the fertilized ovum
Pup Info: A single pup weighing
about 11kg (22 lbs) is born each spring from mid
February to March. Pups are born with white fur.
Unfortunately, Harp seal pups are currently "harvested" for
their fur. 95% of the pups taken are only a few
days of age to 3 months.
Lifespan: Up to 30 years
Predators: Killer Whales, Sharks,
Social Structure: Groups, known
to be gregarious in nature.
Population: Precise figures for
harp seal abundance are unavailable. However recent
estimates are: 4.0 - 6.4 million in the northwest
Atlantic population. Atlantic harp seal stocks
have rebounded from 1.8 million in 1970 to over
5.2 million, according to the Canadian Department
of Fisheries and Oceans. Amid calls for boycotts
and criticism in the 1980s, Canada stopped high-scale
seal hunting and banned the killing of pups older
than 12 days with much evidence showing these regulations
are not properly enforced.
Conservation Status: Common
Threats: All three populations are
hunted annually under proposals to cull harp seal
populations. Over-exploitation, particularly in the
Northwest Atlantic, along with an expanding and unregulated
trade in seal products remain the single largest
threat. Other threats include incidental catches
in fishing gear and environmental contaminants.
Other Information: It can dive
to depths of over 900 feet. Despite their rotund
appearance, adults can move with stealth speed
over ice and in the open sea.
What Can I Do to Help?: Worldwide
effort is underway to stop the inhumane methods
of "harvesting" these animals as sanctioned
by the Canadian government primarily for their
beautiful white fur. Canadian authorities have
increased the number of harp seals that can be
culled to close to one million during the 2003
to 2005 period, and the take this year could go
as high as 350,000. Also, body parts sold as an
aphrodisiac in the Far Eastern Markets. There are
many conservation and animal rights organizations
such as IFAW International Fund for Animal Welfare www.ifaw.org,
the Seal Conservation
Society, and Pagophilus.org for additional reference.