Harbor Seal      Phoca vitulina



Speaking of cute marine animals, say hello to a juvenile harbor seal photographed by Jim Anderson at the Boston Harbor Marina.  Normally born in late summer, this young seal would have been weaned after four to six weeks.  Fully mature in three to five years it can reach 6 ft, weigh over 300 lbs and live for 25 years.  It feeds on a wide variety of fish, octopus and shrimp depending on the seasonal abundance of each prey item.  Underwater it can dash about at 12 mph, dive to 300 ft or more in search of food and stay submerged up to 20 minutes.  


Many harbor seals were killed before the passage of the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972.  The act outlawed hunting or harassing harbor seals or other marine mammals except under certain circumstances.  This has led to an increase in the number of seals in Puget Sound.


Harbor seals, along with other "true" seals, are the most highly specialized of the Pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walruses) for life in water.  Pinnipeds (meaning fin-footed) evolved from weasel or bear-like animals millions of years ago.  The "true" seals  lack ear flaps and can't walk using their hind legs.  They undulate in a caterpillar-like motion when moving on land.


Harbor seals range throughout the nearshore waters of the northern Pacific and Atlantic Oceans where they spend part of their time resting on sand bars or isolated islands.  Major haul-out sites in South Puget Sound are Gertrude Island by McNeal Island, Woodard Bay Nature Area and on the mudflats of the Nisqually River delta.


In Puget Sound harbor seal adults are eaten by transient Killer Whale pods.