Earless seals, also known as true or crawling seals, are a group of marine mammals belonging to the family Phocidae. As the name implies, earless seals lack external ears. Instead, they have small openings on the sides of their heads. These streamlined creatures have adaptations that allow them to thrive in harsh environments of the world’s oceans, from the icy waters of the Arctic to the Pacific and Atlantic temperate seas.
Earless seals have a rich and complex set of behaviors and characteristics that make them worth our attention. From their powerful jaws and sharp teeth to their ability to hold their breath for extended periods, these mammals have evolved various adaptations that allow them to hunt, navigate, and communicate underwater.
This article will explore the appearance, habitat, diet, reproduction, threats, and some interesting facts about earless seals to better understand and appreciate these remarkable marine mammals and their vital role in their ecosystem.
Earless seals are generally large and bulky, with streamlined bodies perfectly adapted for life in the water. They have short, powerful front flippers that they use to swim and maneuver through the water and a long, flat tail that helps them maintain balance. They cannot rotate their hind flippers forward like their cousins. So, they move on land by wriggling on their bellies.
Earless seals come in various colors, from pale grey or brown to black. Some species have spots or patches of darker coloration, while others have a more uniform coat. Most species have a layer of fat beneath their skin that helps them stay warm in cold water.
Earless seals are found in various habitats throughout our oceans, from the icy Arctic and Antarctic waters to the Pacific and Atlantic temperate seas. They can be found in various environments, including Open Oceans, coastal waters, and estuaries.
Earless seals can also haul themselves out of the water and onto land or ice floes, where they rest, mate, and give birth.
However, as we’ve seen, they are well-suited to life in the water and spend much of their time swimming and diving in search of food.
Earless seals are carnivorous and feed primarily on fish, squid, and crustaceans, although the specific types of prey vary by species and geographic region. Some species, such as the harbor seal, feed primarily on small fish. However, others, such as the leopard seal, are apex predators capable of hunting larger prey, including penguins and other seals.
Earless seals can dive to great depths in search of food, with some species able to stay underwater for several hours. They can also detect prey using their highly sensitive whiskers, called vibrissae.
Earless seals mate in the water, and females give birth to a single pup on land or ice floes. The gestation period varies between species but generally lasts six to eleven months. After birth, the mother nurses her pup for several weeks, providing it with fatty milk that helps it grow and stay warm.
Once the pup is weaned, the mother will leave it to fend for itself. The young must learn how to swim, dive, and find food to survive at this time.
Earless seals face various threats in their natural environment, including climate change, pollution, hunting, and fishing. As the climate changes, sea ice is melting at an alarming rate, affecting the seals’ habitat and food sources. Pollution from oil spills and plastic waste also poses a significant threat to earless seals, as it can contaminate their food and harm their health.
Hunting is another major threat to earless seals, as they have been hunted for their meat, oil, and fur for centuries. While hunting is now illegal in many parts of the world, it still occurs in some regions, particularly in Alaska and Canada. Indigenous communities rely on seals for food and clothing in these places.
At the same time, some anglers frequently kill earless seals to protect their catch.
Facts about Earless Seals
- Earless seals are called “true seals” because they belong to the family Phocidae, while their cousins, like the sea lions and fur seals, belong to the family Otariidae.
- There are 18 species of earless seals, including the harbor, leopard, and elephant seals.
- Earless seals can hold their breath for up to 90 minutes, allowing them to dive to great depths in search of food.
- Some earless seals can stay underwater for several hours at a time, using their slow metabolism and ability to conserve oxygen to survive.
- Earless seals have been known to travel long distances for food, with some species swimming more than 10,000 miles in a year.
- The lifespan of earless seals varies by species, with some living as long as 35 years in the wild.
Why are they called earless seals?
Earless seals are called so because they lack external ear flaps, which are present in their close relatives, the eared seals. The absence of these outer ear flaps is a distinguishing characteristic of earless seals. Despite the lack of external ear flaps, earless seals have a highly developed sense of hearing essential for communication, navigation, and detecting prey in their underwater environment.
Are earless seals extinct?
No, earless seals are not extinct. Several species of earless seals are currently found throughout the world’s oceans. However, some species of earless seals have experienced significant population declines in recent years, particularly in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. For example, the population of the ribbon seal, which is found primarily in the Bering Sea, has decreased by over 60% in the last three decades.
What are three interesting facts about seals?
Here are three interesting facts about seals:
1. They are excellent divers and can hold their breath for up to two hours.
2. These animals often live in large groups or colonies.
3. They have a layer of fat beneath their skin that helps to insulate them from the cold waters in which they live.
Are earless seals friendly to humans?
Yes, earless seals are typically not aggressive toward humans. However, they may become defensive if they feel threatened or cornered. So, people should maintain a safe distance from earless seals and avoid disturbing them in their natural habitat.
It is illegal to approach or harass earless seals in some regions, such as Alaska. In other words, there are penalties for violating these regulations in these places.