Despite being considered the clowns of the marine mammals, seals are in fact very interesting and resilient creatures. Underneath all that blubber is a very versatile and hardy animal built to survive the planet’s harshest environments. Read on to discover 50 facts about Seals.
Fact 1: Seals are semi-aquatic mammals that belong to a group called ‘pinnipeds’, which translates to ‘fin-footed’.
- Members of this group are characterized by having front and rear flippers.
Fact 2: There are 33 known species of ‘pinnipeds’ in the world.
- Scientists believe that ‘pinnipeds’ have evolved from terrestrial otter-like creatures.
Fact 3: You can find seals in the Antarctic regions and in tropical waters.
- When seals are not lazing about under the sun, they unleash their amazing prowess as efficient predators in the Antarctic waters.
Fact 4: In the wild, seals can live for up to 30 years, although females have a higher life expectancy than males.
- Female Harbor seals have a life expectancy of 30 to 35 years, whereas Males only live for 20 to 25 years.
Fact 5: The world’s smallest species of seal is the Baikal seal (Pusa sibirica) reaching only 1.3 meters in length and weighing 139-154 pounds.
- This earless seal is endemic to Lake Baikal in Siberia, Russia, and is the only exclusive freshwater ‘pinniped’ species.
Fact 6: The largest known seal species is the Southern Elephant seal.
- It can reach up to 5.8 meters in length and can weigh up to 8,800 pounds.
Fact 7: All seals share some general physical characteristics.
- Seals are warm-blooded organisms and have large flippers instead of arms or legs.
Fact 8: A seal’s body is covered in soft fur, and under their skin is a thick layer of blubber which helps to insulate them from cold temperatures.
- The blubber is a thick layer of fat or adipose tissue that stores energy, and increases the animal’s buoyancy.
Fact 9: Most seals typically live in large social groups called ‘colonies’.
- Each tight-knit colony can have thousands of members that come together to sunbathe, mate and raise their young.
Fact 10: The Leopard Seal may sometimes feed off fellow seals.
- They are considered the most formidable hunters of all seal species, and are the only ones that prey on warm-blooded animals.
Fact 11: Seals hunt either in groups or by themselves.
- Their streamlined bodies enable them to hunt for food in frigid waters with ease.
Fact 12: Seals have highly sensitive whiskers.
- These whiskers can sense movements and vibrations in the water, making seals highly effective hunters.
Fact 13: Seals need to consume up to 5% of their overall body weight in food every day.
- It takes them hours to feed each day.
Fact 14: Seals can dive down at least 300 meters underwater.
- Some species of seals can dive up to 900 meters when searching for food.
Fact 15: The Southern Elephant seal holds the record for the deepest recorded dive of 2,388 meters.
- The species’ diet consists of deep-dwelling animals such as rays, skates, octopus, large fish, and squid, hence the deep diving!
Fact 16: Generally, seals can hold their breath underwater for 3 minutes, but some species can stay submerged for up to 30 minutes.
- Elephant seals can hold their breath for a remarkable 2 hours.
Fact 17: Seals are extremely fast swimmers, reaching up to speeds of 37 km/ h.
- Seals gain speed by porpoising or gliding on the water’s surface to minimize resistance.
Fact 18: Seals can sleep both in the water and on land.
- Seals sleep in water with half of their brain awake. However, when on land, both sides of their brain goes into sleep mode.
Fact 19: Seals communicate by creating a variety of sounds and movements.
- They can be heard making honking noises and even trumpeting sounds.
Fact 20: The Crabeater Seals are the largest population of seals in the world.
- They are generally found in the Antarctic and their numbers range from 2 to 76 million worldwide.
Fact 21: A seal Mum’s milk is 50% fat.
- Researchers observed that pups would gain 3 to 5 pounds a day because of the Mum’s milk.
Fact 22: Seals have been hunted to the point of extinction because of their highly coveted fur and fat.
- Consequently, the Galapagos Fur Seal is critically endangered and is a highly protected marine mammal in most parts of the globe.
Fact 23: “Homer”, a resident Elephant seal in Gisborne, New Zealand, earned a reputation for being a hooligan.
- Homer used to overturn parked cars and even knocked over a restaurant’s power supply once.
Fact 24: Mother seals carry their babies for 11 months.
- The longest pregnancy in the ‘pinniped’ family belongs to the Walrus, with a 16-month gestation period.
Fact 25: Mother and baby seals recognize each other through a familiar call.
- A study conducted in Alaska confirmed that this Mum-pup recognition is even possible after a 4-year long separation.
Fact 26: Alpha-male Elephant seals are possessive Don Juans.
- In one colony alone, more than 90% of the pups born are sired by the group’s alpha-male, and 72% of the male population in that colony may never experience mating at all.
Fact 27: Since the 17th century, seals have been kept in captivity in many parts of the world.
- Captive seals make popular attractions at sea parks and zoos because of their large size and playfulness.
Fact 28: The Japanese Sea Lion and the Caribbean Monk seal have gone extinct in the past century.
- Consequently, the Mediterranean Monk seal and the Hawaiian Monk seal, are listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Fact 29: Seals belong to the order Carnivora and their closest living relatives are bears and musteloids, having diverged about 50 million years ago.
- 50 extinct species of seal have been discovered in fossils.
Fact 30: Seals have a higher volume of blood in their body compared to other animals.
- Seals have an increased amount of myoglobin in their blood, which is the protein that stores oxygen.
Fact 31: Seals have a number of predators including the Orca, Polar Bears and the Great White Shark.
- Harbor seals are preyed upon by coyotes, foxes, and large birds.
Fact 32: Baby seals are hunted commercially in Canada for their fur.
- The seal’s fur is highly coveted in the fashion industry.
Fact 33: Seals sometimes skip eating for several days, and usually completely stop eating during the mating season.
- During these times, they rely mainly on the energy stored in their blubber.
Fact 34: Harbor seals can be found on the North, East, and West coasts of North America.
- In fact, you can find Harbor seals in the Pacific Ocean, extending from northern Japan up the Asian coast and across to Bristol Bay Alaska, and down the coast to Baja California.
Fact 35: Males are not able to mate until they are 8 years old.
- It takes male seals that long to grow big and strong enough to win a mating fight.
Fact 36: Elephant seals have what is called “smoker’s blood”.
- The amount of carbon monoxide present in the blood of an Elephant seal is similar to a person who smokes 40 cigarettes a day.
Fact 37: Common seals may spend several days at sea, traveling up to 50 kilometers in search of food.
- They will also swim upstream into large rivers, resting on mud flats, or on rocky coasts.
Fact 38: Seals are divided into two families: ‘Phocidae’, the earless or “True” seals, and ‘Otariidae’ which are the eared seals.
- True seals include Harbor or Common seals, whereas the eared seals include the Sea Lions and Fur seals.
Fact 39: New England Aquarium’s most famous captive male Harbor seal was “Hoover” (1971-1985).
- Hoover managed to learn how to say “Hey! Hey! Come over Here!” in a noticeable New England accent among a few other phrases.
Fact 40: Seals have a well-developed sense of hearing specialized for underwater acoustics.
- Seals are able to respond to sounds from 1 to 180 kHz underwater, however when at the surface, their hearing ability is reduced to only 1 to 22.5 kHz.
Fact 41: When diving, a seal’s heart rate lowers from 75- 120 beats per minute to only 4-6 beats a minute.
- Adult seals experience bradycardia (lowering of heart rate) at the start of each dive.
Fact 42: Seal pups are born with an advanced state of development and can already crawl and swim after a few hours of birth.
- Pups are normally born on shore, beginning in February for populations at the lower latitudes, and as late as July for those in the subarctic region.
Fact 43: Sea Lions can walk on land by rotating their flippers.
- The same cannot be said for True seals.
Fact 44: Sea Lions are called ‘Eared seals’ because of their ear flaps that cover their ear holes.
- Another contrasting characteristic among seals and Sea Lions is the presence of fur that covers the animal’s long claws, which the Sea Lions have but True seals don’t have.
Fact 45: Global warming has an adverse effect on seal populations.
- As the Earth’s surface warms up, the seal’s excessive blubber instead of protecting the animal from the cold, becomes a maladaptive characteristic.
Fact 46: Excessive fishing and destructive fishing practices negatively affect the seals’ food source.
- Seals may have to migrate for hundreds of miles in search of crabs, krill, and other staples of their diet.
Fact 47: Male seals have massive inflatable snouts.
- A male seal’s most conspicuous feature is his bulbous nose that comes with a proboscis, which is a sack-like appendage used to amplify grunts, snorts, and the seal’s loud drum-like bellow.
Fact 48: Seals have done a few voice acting gigs.
- In Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the cries that Elephant seal pups make were the inspiration for producing the cave-dwelling Moria Orcs’ eerie battle screech.
Fact 49: A female seal is called a ‘cow’.
- A female seal or cow gives birth to only 1 pup once a year on land, and nurses the pup for about 4 days to a month.
Fact 50: Unlike humans, Sea Lions are unable to see in colour but they can discriminate colors in the blue-green spectrum.
- Interestingly, like cats, all ‘pinnipeds’ have a membrane at the back of each eye called a ‘tapetum lucidum’ that aids in night vision.