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Bearded Seals

Kingdom:

Animalia

Phylum:

Chordata

Class:

Mammalia

Order:

Carnivora

Family:

Phocidae

Genus:

Erignathus  

Species:

barbatus


What is taxonomy?

Bearded seals are solitary creatures and can be seen resting on ice flows with their heads facing downward into the water.  This is so they can quickly escape into the sea if pursued by a predator.  Bearded seals also have been seen in open water sleeping.  The seals will sleep vertically with their heads on the water surface.  They do not like deep water and prefer to stay in waters less than 600 feet deep.  Bearded seals have fur that is generally gray to brown and unpatterned.  The small size of the head and the squareness of the flippers are noticeable when seen out of the water.  Like other Arctic ice seals the pups have to learn, very young, how to escape from predators.

Interesting Facts:

  • Bearded seals will ram their heads through thin ice to produce breathing holes!
  • Bearded seals lay on the edge of the ice looking downward into the water.  They can then get away if a predator approaches!
  • The bearded seal gets its name from the white whiskers on its face! The whiskers are very sensitive and are used to find food on the ocean bottom!
  • Unlike sea lions and fur seals the bearded seal females are bigger than the males!
  • Within a week of birth pups are capable of diving to a depth of 200 feet!
  • The bearded seals can be easily recognized because the body looks too big for the size of its head and front flippers!

What I should know about bearded seals?

Where do bearded seals live?

Bearded seals live in areas of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans that freeze and form ice during the winter. 

How many bearded seals are there?

There is no accurate population count at this time, but it is estimated that there are probably over 500,000 bearded seals worldwide.

How can I identify bearded seals?

A bearded seals most distinguishing feature is the beard of white whiskers they use to find food on the sea floor.  Adult bearded seals are gray to brown, pups silver-gray, and do not have spots or other identifying markings.  They do have small heads and flippers for the size of their bodies.  The average length of adult bearded seals is 6.5 to 7 feet.  They can weigh as much as 700 pounds, but the average weight is 400 to 500 pounds.

What do bearded seals eat?

Bearded seals are mainly bottom feeders that eat shrimps, crabs, clams and welks.  They will prey on fish such as cod and sculpin when they get a chance.

How do bearded seals have their young?

The bearded seal pups are born on the ice from the middle of March to the early May.  Pups are weaned in approximately 3 weeks, and during those three weeks they gain a lot of weight.  Their mothers then leave them to fend for themselves.  The bearded seal pups learn to swim and dive within the first week of life.  The pups then live a solitary life like the rest of the bearded seals.

How long do bearded seals live? How do they die?

The life span of bearded seals is believed to be up to 31 years.

The main predator of the bearded seal are the polar bear. Sharks, and walrus have been known to feed on pups, and humans also hunt bearded seals for subsistence.

Where can I find more information about bearded seals?

Go back.


This portion of the NMML website is intended for a student audience and their educators.
Information within the education website should not be cited in scientific journals or publications.


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