Say hello to our harbor seals!
Come see Barney, Hogan and Casey in their beautiful habitat, featuring a spacious pool and plenty of dry resting area (or haul-out space) for them to enjoy. With acrylic viewing panels on three sides and seating for up to 100 visitors (or three entire classrooms of students!) you're sure to get a prime view of these popular, playful marine mammals.
Male harbor seals can weigh between 150 and 375 pounds and measure 5–6 feet in length; females range from 100 to 300 pounds and measure 4–5 feet in length. Unlike sea otters and river otters, harbor seals don’t rely on fur to stay warm. Instead, their thick layer of blubber provides insulation while storing energy, adding buoyancy in the water and contributing to their streamlined shape. Commonly called “crawling seals,” they use their hind flippers for propulsion underwater only; these flippers can’t be rotated forward and thus can’t be used for locomotion on land. Their front flippers are more versatile—they’re used for steering in the water and, along with body undulations, for forward movement on solid ground.
Harbor seals can dive up to 1,500 feet below the surface and remain underwater for close to 30 minutes while hunting for food, although most dives last between three and 10 minutes. Their nostrils remain closed most of the time, which is handy for an animal that lives in the water—and, once the seals are back above water, they must consciously open their nostrils to resume breathing.
Harbor seals can sleep on land or take naps just below the surface of the water, and surface occasionally for air.
Out and about
In the wild, harbor seals are found in coastal and inland marine waters and estuaries. Because they “haul out” (or come onto land) frequently, they stick to areas where sandbars, beaches or rocks are uncovered at low tide. Harbor seals do not migrate. Instead, they tend to stay in one locale most of their lives and only travel when they’re in search of food or a mate during breeding season. Adult harbor seals are solitary and rarely interact with one another, with one exception: breeding. They are communal during breeding times, with males and females mingling freely.
More than meets the eye
Harbor seals are a familiar sight in the Puget Sound region. Their heads pop out of the water while we walk along the shore, cross the Sound by ferry, sit in a waterfront restaurant, or gaze out over Elliott Bay when visiting the Aquarium's harbor seal exhibit! Charming and playful, harbor seals captivate us with their gentle eyes, droopy whiskers and round bodies. Beyond their beguiling appearance, they are also barometers of the health of Puget Sound and sentinels of the well-being of the habitats in which they live. The reason for this is found in their diet: harbor seals eat sole, flounder, sculpin, cod, herring, octopus and squid—all links in a food chain that is increasingly vulnerable to pollution, development and other human activities.