Friday, Aug. 30, 2002
* Japanese name: Zenigata-azarashi
* Scientific name: Phoca vitulina stejnegeri
* Description: Harbor seals are pinnipeds -- mammals adapted to life in the ocean. Their limbs are modified into flippers, each with five digits. The fore flippers are used for grooming, scratching and fighting; the hind flippers for propulsion. On land they move by undulating like caterpillars. Seals have coats of short, thick fur, from nearly white with dark spots to black/dark brown with white spots. Males are 174-186 cm long, and weigh 87-170 kg. Females are slightly smaller, 160-169 cm and 60-142 kg. Pups are about 80 cm when born, weighing about 10 kg.
* Where to find them: Around Hokkaido. Harbor seals don't like warm waters, but might occasionally turn up farther south.
* Food: Inshore shallow water fish species such as flounder, sole, herring, cod, whiting and eel; also mussels, crabs and squid. Harbor seals tear their prey into chunks or swallow it whole. They have strong molars to crush shells.
* Special features: Females become sexually mature at around 3 years. This is when they arouse the interest of males, who initiate courtship behavior. The male chases the female, embracing and biting her. Their play -- rolling, bubble-blowing and mouthing each other's necks -- continues in the sea, where copulation takes place. Males may mate with more than one female. For the most part, harbor seals are solitary animals, but they sometimes "haul out" of the water in groups. They do this to aid digestion, to rest, to warm up, to give birth, to nurse pups and to molt. Haul-outs might also protect the seals from predators, such as killer whales and sharks. Even during haul outs, however, harbor seals don't like to touch each other. If they do, aggression usually results: snorts, head thrusts and threatening waves of the flipper.