Harp seals are content to live in the cold waters of the Arctic and far North Atlantic Oceans. They can dive deep, from 300 to 1,000 feet, which is about the equivalent of a 100-story building, turned upside down. Harp seals can stay underwater for as much as 15 minutes. While swimming around down there, they catch fish and crabs to keep themselves chubby with blubber.
Each year, groups of thousands of harp seals gather on ice floes along the Northeast coast of Canada, the “west ice” between Greenland and Norway, and the White Sea of Russia. At these rookeries (birthing spots) females give birth to the beautiful white-furred pups. The pups remain in those fluffy coats until about two weeks of age when they begin to molt and then grow in the sleek, grey fur of the adults. Adult seals also molt their fur and outer skin layer each year.
Hunting of these animals for their fur is legal, but some countries have banned the killing of the “white coats,” those pups that are two-weeks old and younger.
Counting seals in northern waters is not an easy task. Estimates of the worldwide population of these seals are 5 million animals or more animals. That puts them in the “least concern” status on Red List published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Sea ice coverage in the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans has become less reliable and thinner over recent decades. Since the seals depend on the sea ice as a place to give birth and to lay on during their fur molt, decreases in sea ice could have a massive impact on the harp seals and other seals who live in the north.