Harbour seal

Learn about harbour seals, including their life cycle, diet, distribution and population trends.

Harbour seals on the shore. Photo credit: Garry Stenson.

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Life cycle

Female harbour seals have a lifespan of 30 to 35 years, while males have a lifespan of 20 to 25 years. Both can reach a length of 1.85 metres as adults and weigh about 110 kg.

Pups are born annually on shore. Pupping season varies by location, occurring in February in lower latitudes, and as late as July in the subarctic zone. Pups are able to swim and dive within hours of birth. They nurse for 3 to 4 weeks, doubling their weight by the time they’re weaned.

Diet

Harbour seals eat a variety of fish and invertebrates, including:

Distribution

Harbour seals are found along temperate and Arctic marine coastlines of the Northern Hemisphere. They’re found in coastal waters of the:

In Canada, there are 3 subspecies that can be found off the coastal waters of:

The Pacific harbour seal subspecies occurs on Canada’s west coast.

The freshwater subspecies of the Lacs des Loups Marins area of Québec’s Ungava peninsula are landlocked. They’re endemic to Québec and Canada.

The Atlantic and Eastern Arctic harbour seals subspecies are found on the Canadian Atlantic and Arctic coasts, extending into:

Population trends

The global harbour seal population is 5 to 6 million. Some subspecies in certain habitats have been reduced or eliminated through conflict with humans and outbreaks of disease, such as the phocine distemper virus.

The Pacific harbour seal population in British Columbia has increased to around 100,000 since hunting ended in 1967. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada assessed the status of the Pacific harbour seal subspecies as ‘Not at Risk’ in April 1999.

Abundance in Atlantic Canada is unknown but is thought to have been reduced due to a hunt and bounty program that ended in the 1970s. There are an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 harbour seals in Atlantic Canada. The Atlantic and Eastern Arctic population was assessed as ‘Not at Risk’ in November 2007.

The Lacs des Loups Marins freshwater seal population was recently estimated to be around 100 individuals. They were assessed as ‘Endangered’ in April 2018 and have been listed under the Species at Risk Act as such since 2017.