The Alaska Fisheries Science Center website is now part of the NOAA Fisheries website.
Some information may not be up to date. Join us at our new location,
Please contact with any questions.

link to AFSC home page
Mobile users can use the Site Map to access the principal pages

link to AFSC home page link to NMFS home page link to NOAA home page
Ringed Seals















What is taxonomy?

Ringed seals are found mainly in or near ice-covered areas, they do not spend much of their lives in the open ocean. The ice provides protection from some predators, though polar bears spend much of their time on sea ice hunting for seals. Ringed seals usually give birth and raise their pups hidden from view in lairs under the snow. Ringed seal pups learn to dive soon after birth; they have to be ready to move in a hurry, if a polar bear finds their lair! After two months the pups are weaned, and the ice pack breaks up at about the same time. In early summer, ringed seals come out of their lairs onto the snow surface to sunbathe and molt. The seals always stay near a breathing hole or crack in the ice, so they can jump in the water if they see a polar bear. Ringed seals do not live in large groups and are usually found alone, but they may be found in large groups on the ice during the molting season, gathered around cracks or breathing holes.

Interesting Facts:
  • Ringed seals are among the smallest of the pinnipeds! They seldom even reach five feet in length!!
  • Ringed seals can live in areas that are completely covered with ice! They use their sharp claws to make and maintain their own breathing holes through the ice, which can be up to 7 feet thick!
  • Ringed seals also carve out lairs in snowdrifts over their breathing holes. From the outside, the snowdrift looks the same, but a ringed seal may be hidden in a lair inside!!
  • The ringed seal gets its name from the small light-colored circles, or rings, scattered throughout the darker hair on its back.
  • Of all the Arctic ice seals there are more ringed seals than any other kind of seal.
  • Ringed seals stay close to the ice all year long!
  • A ringed seal pup only weighs 10 pounds at birth!

What should I know about ringed seals?

Where do ringed seals live?

Ringed seals are found in all the Arctic seas and in the North Pacific as far south as Japan. 

How many ringed seals are there?

The ringed seal is the most abundant of the Arctic ice seals.  Although no accurate estimate exists, there are probably more than 2,000,000 ringed seals world wide.

How can I identify a ringed seal?

Ringed seals can vary a great deal in coloring; the most common is a gray back with black spots and a light underside.  The spots are circled by white coloring, or 'rings'.  Ringed seals average 4 to 4.5 feet in length and weigh 110 to 150 pounds.  Unlike some seals, there is not a great difference in the sizes of male and female ringed seals.  The ringed seal will open breathing holes in ice up to 7 feet thick.

What do ringed seals eat?

Ribbon seals will eat arctic cod, saffron cod, shrimps, as well as squid, sculpins and amphipods.

How do ringed seals have their young?

Most of the ringed seals give birth in lairs they have constructed in the snow.  After two months the pups are weaned, the ice pack breaks up at about the same time.  The pups have gained weight and blubber during this time.  Learning to feed themselves takes time and they will lose a lot of the blubber they started with.

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

Ringed seals have been known to live up to 43 years.

The ringed seals primary predator is the polar bear and where the polar bear is present, the ringed seal is its main food source.  They are also preyed upon by the killer whale, walrus, wolves, dogs, wolverine, sharks, and even gulls, who have been known to kill pups.  There is also subsistence harvesting by native hunters throughout their range.

Where can I find more information about ringed seals?

Go back.

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

            | Home | Site Map | Contact Us | FOIA | Privacy | Disclaimer | | Accessibility | Print |           doc logo