Interesting facts about harp seals

harp seals

The harp seal or saddleback seal is a species of seal.

They live in the northernmost Atlantic Ocean and Arctic Ocean.

They are found Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and the United States.

Stray harp seals have been found in Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

They spend the majority of their time in coastal ocean waters near pack ice.

harp seal

The harp seal is the best-known seal species. It is also the most abundant seal species in the northern hemisphere.

The lifespan for harp seals is about 30-35 years.

Adult harp seals grow to be from 1.7 to 2 meters (5 ft 7 in to 6 ft 7 in) long and weigh from 115 to 140 kg (254 to 309 lb); the males are slightly larger.

The gray coloration of its body is accented by a black harp-shaped marking on its back; the males are more decorated.


Harp seals have acute vision and hearing, which is incredibly strong underwater, but a very poor sense of smell.

Harp seals have a varied diet of fish such as capelin, polar and Arctic cod, herring, sculpin, Greenland halibut, redfish, and plaice. They also consume crustaceans such as amphipods, euphausids (krill), and decapods (shrimps and prawns).

Harp seals routinely dive to depths of 100 meters (328 feet) while feeding, however one individual was observed diving to a depth of 274 meters (almost 900 feet). Dive duration ranges from less than 2 minutes to just over 20 minutes.

Harp Seals are very social come mating season, forming huge colonies on land. They also often travel and hunt in large pods spaning from dozens to hundreds.


Harp seals are a highly migratory species, and have been known to travel distances up to 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles).

Harp seals spend most of their lives in the water, though some have been known to ride bits of drifting sea ice for short distances during migration.

All harp seals must come up on land or ice to give birth, rear their young, and molt.

From late February to March, seals relocate to the southern limit of their range to breed and give birth. The gestation period lasts about 11.5 months. There have been reported cases of twin births, but singletons are vastly more common. The mortality rate for harp seal pups in their first year is 20-30%.

harp seal pup

The total population of harp seals is estimated at nearly 7.5 million animals, which are separated into three distinct populations:
The largest population (approximately 5 million animals) inhabits the northwestern Atlantic and breeds both near the coast of Newfoundland and within the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The second largest population occurs in the vicinity of the Barents Sea, numbers between 1.5 and 2 million animals, and breeds on the ice-covered White Sea in northwest Russia.
The smallest population (approximately 300,000 animals) inhabits the area between Norway’s Jan Mayen Island and the eastern coast of Greenland, and its mating grounds are mainly located near Jan Mayen Island.

The main predators of harp seals are polar bears, killer whales, Greenland sharks, and walruses.


All three harp seal populations are commercially hunted for oil and fur.

They are listed as “least concern” on the IUCN Red List.

Scientific name for this species is Pagophilus groenlandicus which translates to “ice-lover from Greenland.”

They 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.