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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, North American Mammals

  Carnivora · Phocidae · Pagophilus groenlandicus

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Pagophilus groenlandicus

Harp Seal

Order: Carnivora
Family: Phocidae

Image of Pagophilus groenlandicus
Phoca groenlandica - female and pup on ice floe (right) with juvenile just underneath; males on left, sooty (far left) and normal coloration next to female's tale
Click to enlarge. (60 kb)

Conservation Status: Least Concern.

The relationship between people and harp seals is slowly changing. For years, newborn pups were killed in large numbers for their gorgeous white coats. That still happens, but tourists are visiting some of the haul-out sites where the seals give birth, inhibiting the slaughter and also providing an economic reason not to kill the pups. Harp seal pups grow at an astonishing rate on the fat-rich milk produced by their mothers. From a birth weight of about 10 kg, they bulk up to 35 kg in 10 days. This gets them ready quickly for an 11 month, 5,000 km swim to the far corners of their Arctic range and back again. Large groups swim together, leaping, rolling, and porpoising. Adults have a dark, harp-shaped pattern on their fur.

Also known as:

Greenland Seal, Saddle-backed Seal, Jumping Seal, Beater, Bedlamer


Average: 1.8 m
Range: 1.7-1.9 m


Average: 130 kg
Range: 115-140 kg


Erxleben, J.C.P., 1777.  Systema regni animalis per classes, ordines, genera, species, varietas, cum synonymia et historia animalium Classis I. Mammalia, 1:588.  Weygandianis, Lipsiae, 636 pp.


Mammal Species of the World (opens in a new window).

Distribution of Pagophilus groenlandicus

Image of Pagophilus groenlandicus
Click to enlarge. (110kb)

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