Harbor Seal

Phoca vitulina richardsi

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Coloration between individual Harbor Seals varies widely, from near white to black. They usual coloration is bluish grey with white spots and small rings. Front and rear flippers are short, and there are no external ears. Motion on land for these animals is awkward and consists of a wormlike “bouncing.”

In the water, however, seals are quick and graceful. They propel themselves with side-to-side motions of their rear flippers and steer with their front flippers. When seen in the water, they are often mistaken for sea lions although most varieties of seal are much smaller.

Harbor Seals hunt herring, hake, rockfishes, flounder, sole and lampreys. They will also eat crustaceans and mollusks such as squid and octopuses.

They are shy on land and easily frightened into the water when a human appears. Once in the water, however, much of their shyness melts away. With only their heads poking above the surface, they study beachcombers inquisitively and may approach curiously if people stand or sit quietly. Harbor seals sometimes follow and even play with SCUBA divers. Because seals, along with other marine mammals, are protected by law and potentially dangerous, it is never advisable for any to approach one for any reason.

Range and Habitat

Harbor Seals live in nearshore waters, including bays and estuaries. “Haulout” areas include sand spits, mud flats, reefs, low rocks and icebergs as long as water is constantly accessible. Harbor Seals can be found from the Aleutian Islands to Baja California. On the Oregon coast, there are stable populations in and around several bays including Yaquina.

Conservation Status

Common, but protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.