The white seals that we adore with the white fluffy fur are actually pups of the harp seal breed. Harp seals live in the northern waters of the world and garner their name after the appearance of their coat. Harp seals are the most hunted seals out of all the breeds. They are commercially sought after for their oil and fur. Under natural conditions, a harp seal may live to be 30 to 35 years old.
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Baby harp seals, or pups, have white fur, but as they mature their fur changes to a dark grey look. Because adult seals spend the majority of their time in the water versus the white snow, they do not need the pure white camouflage like a pup. Adults can weigh up to 150 Kilogram and reach 1.5 to 2 meters in length. They are named after the harp-shaped pattern on the dorsal side of the adult seal's coat.
Harp seals live in the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans and also surrounding Greenland. An estimated 4 to 6.4 million seals live in the northwest Atlantic, 300,000 live in the Greenland area and 1.2 million live in the Barents and White Seas. Adults live in the water; pups live primarily on land in their early stages.
Harp seals eat both fish and crustaceans. Examples of their diet include polar cod, herring, halibut, small crabs, capelin, redfish and shrimp. They often dive as deep as 100 meters to find food. Polar bears, killer whales, sharks and walruses prey on harp seal females and pups.
Harp seal pups are born in the spring and go through six life stages to reach adulthood. Newborns are called yellowjackets and have white fur that is tinted yellow from the placental fluid. The yellow tint disappears after a few days and turns into a white fluffy fur coat. In roughly 12 days they weigh more than 34 Kilogram. The next stage is the "raggedy jacket," in when the pups start to moult, leaving a silver-grey fur with black spots. After 18 days, the coat is completely moulted. In this stage, they learn how to swim with their front flippers. They go through a "bedlamer" stage before reaching the sixth and final stage of adulthood. The adult stage is reached after about seven or eight years of age in males or four to six years of age in females.
Thousands of harp seals migrate in groups from the Northwest Atlantic and Arctic to birthing grounds around the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. They leave in fall and reach their birthing grounds between December and February. When the ice recedes, the seals head back to their original location.
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