Brief facts about five Arctic seals
During an expedition cruise to Svalbard, one of our last untouched wildernesses, you have the chance to experience unforgettable wildlife encounters. Svalbard's unique fauna includes several species of seals, and below can you read some brief facts about five of them.
The ringed seal belongs to the polar bear's favourite food. It is the most common seal species in the Arctic Ocean and is recognised by its grey fur with dark spots that sometimes can be taken for rings, hence the name ringed seal. The ringed seal is the only species in the earless seal family that continues to grow thruoghout life and can reach between 120 and 195 cm in length during a lifetime. Despite this, it is still slightly smaller than the harbour seal.
The harbour seal not only lives along the Swedish west coast, in the North Sea, the North Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean, but a small population has also ventured as far north as Svalbard. It is black or grey in its coat with dark spots, like the ringed seal, but is thus slightly larger in comparison. A more distinctive feature is its V-shaped nostrils. It can dive up to 200 meters, after which its heart rate is lowered by about 20 beats per minute, from normal 150 beats per minute to about 130.
The bearded seal is one of the larger members of the earless seal family. It occurs only in the Arctic Ocean and is well adapted to life in a harsh and cold climate. It stores large amounts of fat during the winter months and can then reach a weight of an impressive 400 kg, which makes its head during the same period look disproportionately small. During the summer, it has thinned slightly but is still easy to recognize thanks to its characteristic moustache. If you are quiet, you can hear how the male seals, like whales, sing under the water. It is not entirely known why they do so, but it is probably to impress females nearby and to mark their own territory.
The harp seal is approximately 200 cm long and weighs 140 kg. The males are slightly larger than the females, have a black head and a black spot extending from the shoulders, along the sides back to the tail. It is thanks to the shape of that spot the seal is named harp seal, as the spot is reminiscent of a harp. The female's spot is paler but can also be split. They can dive as deep as over 200 meters when hunting fish, molluscs and crustaceans. Its young ones are completely white and lack a warming layer of fat, but the white coat instead conducts the sun's heat directly to the skin.
It may not be completely obvious, but the walrus is also included in the group of seals, even though it is classified as the only living species in its own family of walruses. Its size and characteristic tusks create a powerful impression and suggest that it is in the cold and distant waters of the Arctic that the walrus belongs. It eats large numbers of small animals such as mussels and molluscs that it grazes on the seabed, but it also happens that it eats fish and that males feed on other seals or even whales. They have almost no natural enemies and are therefore very curious animals. In the past, however, they were hunted extensive by humans, but thankfully the species has started to recover and on Svalbard you have good chances to have great encounters with these charming and fascinating animals!