Saving The Harp Seals




My Personal Bias

I have a confession to make. I think harp seals might be the best thing I've ever seen. The first thing I can say when I look at one is simply "squish". I might even go as fast as to say that they are the cutest animal I've ever seen (My cat doesn't appreciate me saying that). It's safe to say, though, that I have a soft spot for harp seals, maybe even more that most sea animals. Conserving their habitat and way of life holds special importance to me. So, let's learn a bit more about my favorite sea animal, and how to keep them around for many years to come.


Lifestyle

Harp seals are found in the coldest parts of the North Atlantic and Arctic Ocean, their blubber (layers of fat) protecting them from the extreme temperatures. Sometimes, they can be spotted off the coast of New England as well. Called "harp" seals not because of their melodic voice (what if,) but because of a black patch on their back that looks like a harp. Harp seals are also true seals, not sea lions, with which they are often confused. Sea lions have external ears and are more mobile on land.

Harp seals spend most of their time in the water where they are comfortable. They can often be found in large groups for seasonal migration to find food in the Arctic, or a 3,000+ mile journey on annual migrations. They mainly feed on fish and invertebrates.

The packed ice of their icy home is important to gather the seal pack, raise their young, and give birth. Female harp seals will only give birth in the short period of time that the ice is packed. Pups, which rapidly gain weight after birth, won't eat for nearly two months in order to lose weight and begin feeding in the water with the other seals.


Threats

The ice that the harp seals rely on is in rapid decline, leaving the seals to be a part of the ever growing number of sea animals affected negatively by global warming. However, seals face a much more direct threat too, in the form of hunting. This hunting is an ancient practice mostly regulated by the Canadian government, which places a cap on the number of seals killed.

Increasing human activity near the poles have also disrupted the harp seal's way of life. Entanglement in fishing nets, chemical and oil spills, and other illegal activities also threaten the existence of harp seals. There are currently 7 million harp seals in the North American stock, showing their steady growth since being listed as endangered, and are currently at Least Concern.


If you live near a coast on the North Atlantic, petition and call your local government to take the threats to harp seal habitat like oil/energy exploration and vessel collisions more seriously. Donate to funds like Beachlex and/or the Ocean Conservancy! :)



Sources to read:

https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/harp-seal 
https://oceana.org/marine-life/marine-mammals/harp-seal 
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/h/harp-seal/ 

Image credit: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/05/seal-plastic-death-climate-change-animals/

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