TRUE SEALS – Phocidae

TRUE SEALS

TRUE SEALS FACTS

True seals have a tapered shape, with short hair covering their body. Underneath the thick skin are 5 to 6 inches (11 to 13 centimeters) of blubber, or fat, that conserves body heat and stores food energy. They are also called earless seals, because they do not have external ears. The ears are just tiny openings on each side of the rounded head. Unlike eared seals, true seals cannot rotate their back flippers for walking. For movement on land, they crawl on their undersides, with the rear end and front flippers pushing the body along. In water, the webbed back flippers act as paddles, while the front flippers are used for steering and balance.

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE

True seals inhabit all oceans, except the Indian Ocean. Some species live in inland lakes in Siberia, Russia, and Finland.

TRUE SEALS HABITAT

True seals forage, search for food, at sea, but haul out (get out of the water) to land to breed, molt, or shed fur, and rest. They prefer ice floes, large sheets of floating ice, or fast ice, ice attached to a land mass. They also inhabit sand, cobble, and boulder beaches, as well as caves and rocky outcrops.

TRUE SEALS DIET

True seals eat mostly fish. They also feed on krill, squid, octopuses, and other seals.

BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION

True seals congregate on land or ice to breed and molt. The males and females of some species migrate, travel, separately from breeding to foraging areas. Others species do not migrate. Only the male elephant seals and gray seals gather groups of females during the breeding season. In some species, cows, females, nurse their young for just a few days, fattening up the pup, and then letting it fend for itself.

TRUE SEALS AND PEOPLE

Native people have always depended on seals for food, oil, and fur, taking only what they need for their local populations. Commercial sealers, on the other hand, have overhunted some species.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Three true seals are considered threatened species due mainly to habitat loss or degradation. The Caribbean and Hawaiian monk seals are listed as Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) lists the Mediterranean monk seal as Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild, the Hawaiian monk seal as Endangered, and the Caspian seal as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.