Pacific Harbor Seal
Often seen swimming in the surf off sandy beaches of the northern United States. Haul out on sand
and pebble beaches, intertidal rocks and ledges, and sandbars.
Throughout the eastern Aleutians and along the southern coast of the Alaska Peninsula to Prince
William Sound, and southward along the coast to Baja California
They are opportunistic feeders, eating sole, flounder, sculpin, hake, cod, herring, octopus, and
Forage in a variety of marine habitats, including deep fjords, coastal lagoons and estuaries, and
high-energy, rocky coastal areas. May also forage at the mouths of freshwater rivers and streams,
occasionally traveling several hundred miles upstream.
Spend about 85 percent of their day diving and foraging for food. Dive to depths of 30 to 500 feet.
Harbor Seals have small flippers and must move on land by flopping along on their bellies.
Generally solitary except for the strong bond between mothers and pups. While molting, groups of
several hundred seals may haul out at the same tide bar, sandy or cobble beach, or exposed
intertidal reef where they spend most of the time sleeping.
Harbor Seals appear to be serially monogamous; males generally mate with one or a few females
during a season. Females give birth in spring, nurse their pups three to four weeks, then
abruptly wean and abandon them. Mating takes place in the water soon after the pups are weaned.
Preyed on by large sharks and killer whales. Brown bears and coyotes have been reported killing
and eating Harbor Seals in some areas of the Pacific Northwest. Other threats include pollution,
oil spills, disease, decreased food supply as a result of over-fishing, human disturbance, and
entanglement in derelict fishing nets and other marine debris.
Overall Harbor Seal population is 400,000 to 500,000, with most subspecies considered near
threatened. Seal hunting, once a common practice, is now mostly illegal.
A pup can swim at birth, and will sometimes ride on its mother's back when tired.
While harbor seals swim safely in the surf, they will often curiously watch humans walking on
beaches. However, they are wary of people while on land, and will rush into the water if
approached too closely or disturbed. In fact, if disturbed too often, they have been known to
abandon favorite haul-out sites or their pups.
Contact for page content: Ed Bowlby