Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Living Sanctuary section includes Marine Life, Habitats, Ocean Environment, History and Culture
Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Living Sanctuary section includes Marine Life, Habitats, Ocean Environment, History and Culture
Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Living Sanctuary section includes Marine Life, Habitats, Ocean Environment, History and Culture

Pacific harbor seal

Pacific Harbor Seal
(Phoca vitulina)

Habitat
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.

Range
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

Eats
They are opportunistic feeders, eating sole, flounder, sculpin, hake, cod, herring, octopus, and squid.

Feeds
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.

Moves
Harbor Seals have small flippers and must move on land by flopping along on their bellies.

Behavior
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.

Reproduction
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.

Threats
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.

Status
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.

Notes
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
Photo of peach coral
Revised May 14, 2013 by Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary   |    Contact Us   |    Report a broken link  |
Web Site Owner: National Ocean Service    |    leaving site indicates a link leaves the site. Please view our Disclaimer for more information.   |   
National Ocean Service | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | National Marine Sanctuaries | NOAA Library | Privacy Policy