Harbor Seal

Phoca vitulina

Harbor seal tracks.
        Drawing by Kim A. Cabrera.

Harbor Seal Tracks
(Flipper marks and drag mark from body)

Natural History of Harbor Seals

The harbor seal lives in the north Atlantic and north Pacific oceans. It is the most widely distributed seal, or pinniped. It is found in temperate, arctic and subarctic coastal areas. The photos on this page were taken in Redwood National Park, California.

The male harbor seal is usually larger than the female. They can get up to 6 feet long and weigh 375 pounds. They have a coat of thick, short hair that helps keep them warm.

The forefeet are webbed and have five toes, or digits. The forefeet have claws which the seals can use for defense, or just for scratching. The hind flippers are used to help them swim and to move around on land. On land, they move around somewhat like caterpillars, hitching forward with their flippers.

Seals will swallow their prey whole or tear it into chunks. They eat fish, squid, crustaceans and mollusks. They have well-developed molar teeth that help them to crush shells. Adult seals can eat 5 or 6 percent of their body weight each day.

Late spring through fall is the seal mating season. There is usually only one pup born each year and gestation lasts from 9 to 11 months. Harbor seals will use the same breeding grounds year after year. When there are pups around, it is best to leave the seals alone. You should watch from a distance and not approach the animals.

Harbor seals will come out of the water to bask on beaches, rocks, islands and sandbars, but they usually remain near the water.

Humans have hunted harbor seals for their meat, oil and skins. Some see seals as competition for fish. Seals can get caught in commercial fishing nets on occasion. They will eat the fish that have been caught in the nets.

There are five subspecies of harbor seal. Their scientific name means 'sea dog.'

Personal Notes on Harbor Seals

Harbor Seal tracks found at Redwood National Park, near Orick, California
December 17, 2000
Photos by Kim A. Cabrera

                    claw mark. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera.

This is the mark of one flipper. The claws dug into the sand and left very prominent marks. This sand was not as soft as the sand in some of  the other photos.

Here is the trail of a seal, showing the mark in the middle from the hind flippers. The outer marks are from the front flippers. The ham radio is in photo is about 12 inches long for scale. Direction of movement is from right to left.

Seal trail with radio for
                    scale. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera (KG6BFO).
Seal trail. Photo by Kim A.

A seal trail in soft sand showing the drag mark from the animal's body in the middle of the marks from the front flippers. Direction of travel is toward the camera.

This is a single flipper mark. The outer area shows some claw marks. The coin in the photo is a quarter for scale. It is 15/16 inch wide.

Seal flipper mark. Photo
                    by Kim A. Cabrera.
Seal trail. Photo by Kim A.

Here is a trail with the marks in the middle representing the hind flippers.

Crossing the photo from upper right to lower left are the tracks of a raven. The dark area in the upper middle is a place where a seal urinated on the sand. Seal scat is not often found because they deposit it in the water. There is a flipper mark below and to the left of the dark area.

Seal urine
                    spot and raven tracks. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera.


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Copyright 1997, 2018. Text, photos, and drawings by Kim A. Cabrera


Copyright 1999, 2018. Kim A. Cabrera - Desert Moon Design.

Updated: March 25, 2018.