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Gray Seal

Exhibit(s): Kovler Seal Pool
Gray Seal

Gray Seal Fact Sheet

  • Latin Name

    Halichoerus grypus
  • Class

  • Order

  • Range

    Gray seals live in three distinct populations on both sides of the north Atlantic Ocean and in the Baltic Sea.
  • Status

    The species has no special conservation status, although its Baltic Sea population—the smallest of its three population groups—has greater legal protections due to hunting and habitat pollution.
  • Habitat

    Habitats across its population ranges differ from temperate to subarctic waters and include rocky continental coasts, isolated islands, icebergs and ice shelves.
  • Niche

    Gray seals are opportunistic predators, feeding on up to 30 different species of fish and occasionally crustaceans and mollusks. Feeding methods vary among populations, but gray seals usually hunt together in social groups for greater efficiency.
  • Life History

    Gray seals that breed on land are polygynous, with males competing to mate with several females. Ice-breeding seals seem to be more monogamous, although research is more limited for these groups. Females reach sexual maturity at 3–5 years old and give birth to a pup with dense, woolly, white fur after an 11-month gestation. Pups grow quickly by nursing on their mothers’ fat-rich milk and remain on land until fully molting within a month or so, after which they learn to hunt at sea.
  • Special Adaptations

    Gray seals are well adapted to a life at sea. Adults have two layers of thick fur and a thick blubber layer to keep them warm. Powerful, webbed flippers with strong claws help seals swim, dive and catch prey in water. Seals can dive to depths of nearly 1,000 feet when feeding. Strong shoulders help seals haul out onto steep, slippery rocks. Research also suggests that, like harbor seals, the species uses its sensitive whiskers when hunting to detect hydrodynamic currents generated by schools of fish in their wake.


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