How do seals protect themselves from predators?

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How do seals protect themselves from predators?
Are they safe? (seal image by Balogh Eniko from Fotolia.com)

Many people know seals only from zoos or circus acts, but seals are found in the wild in the waters of the Arctic and Antarctic, the rocky islands of Scotland and the tropical beaches of Hawaii, according to the Scottish Natural Heritage nature group. Although some species, such as the leopard seal, are formidable predators themselves, seals are threatened by several animals, including polar bears, killer whales, sharks and human beings.

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Shelter

Ringed seals inhabit the Arctic seas, according to the Alaskan Department of Fish and Game. Foxes and ravens feed on the pups, and killer whales and polar bears feed on pups and adults alike. In fact, ringed seals are one of the mainstays of a polar bear's diet. When pregnant, female seals protect their young by building lairs under snowdrifts to shield them from the harsh Arctic weather and predators--though foxes sometimes tunnel inside.

The Right Beach

The Wildlife Trust says the rare monk seal of Hawaii has one major natural predator: the shark. When monk seals become pregnant, they find sandy beaches and lie there until they give birth to a single seal pup. To protect their pups from sharks, the mothers choose beaches where the ocean stays shallow until well out in the water; if the seabed drops away fast, creating deep waters near the shore, sharks may be able to come in close and snatch the pups when they first enter the sea.

Location

Seals that have adapted to live in the Antarctic protect themselves just by their location. The Antarctic has no natural land predators; while killer whales and leopard seals may attack other seals in the water, as long as the seals rest on the ice, they're safe.

Where They Swim

Weddell seals, the southernmost species, spend much of their swimming time under the Antarctic ice, where predators usually don't follow. The northern elephant seals feed by diving deeper than the animals that prey on them, and females stay out in the open ocean as much as possible because there are even fewer seal predators there.

The Most Dangerous Predator

Human beings have killed seals for their meat, blubber and fur. Thanks to human tools such as boats and harpoons, seals are no match for us; only legal restrictions on seal hunting keep them safe from Homo sapiens.

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