Eight Harbor Seals are resting on the beach on the coast of California. (Look closely, can you find all eight seals?)
Harbor Seals are mammals. They breathe at the surface and hold their breath while diving. Harbor Seals can be 4 to 6 feet long, and may weigh as much as 300 pounds. Harbor Seals eat fish, shellfish, octopus, and squid. Harbor Seals lounge on the beaches and rocky coasts when they are not swimming, to sleep in the sun safe from the Orcas and Great White Sharks that hunt them. They hold themselves up with their flippers to help them move about on land. In the water, they paddle with their front flippers and steer with their tail flippers. They may make barking or grunting sounds, and sometimes slap the water with their front flippers.
Female Harbor Seals can give birth when they are 3 to 5 years old. Baby Harbor Seals are called pups. A mother will give birth to a single pup as early as February in the southern part of their range, and later in the year farther north. Pups make a crying noise that sounds like they are saying "mom." Harbor Seals may sleep most of the day on the beach and go into the water only a couple of times each day to hunt for food. Mothers will leave their pups on the beach while they are hunting. If people find an abandoned pup, they must leave it alone. Harbor Seals have a keen sense of smell, and if a mother smells that a pup has been handled by humans she will not return to care for it. Pups are born with a weak immune system, and develop immunity to disease by drinking their mothers' milk.
Wild Harbor Seals can live as long as 30 years. Their range extends from Baja Mexico to the Bering Sea near Alaska. California's Channel Islands are an important location in their habitat, where many Harbor Seals live. Harbor Seals live together in groups of as many as 100 animals. They spend much time sleeping and playing. Harbor Seals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. It is unlawful to feed, touch, or harass these animals.
Diana Reischel took this photograph. Diana is a marine biologist. She helped rescue sick and injured Harbor Seals when she worked for the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California. Visit the Marine Mammal Center to learn more about Harbor Seals and other marine mammals.