10 things you may not know about seals

Posted on 24 February 2017 by

George White

in the Animals in the wild blog

As a seal of approval for the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary, here are 10 things you might not know about these slippery little mammals - from our communications volunteer Aaron Lax

A seal pup's head above water

1. Seals only spend about 20% of their time on land

The only time you’re likely to catch sight of a seal is when it’s lounging on a beach – but in fact, they only come to land to breed, to escape predators, or in the case of the elephant seal, shed their skin. (Don’t worry – they grow a new one.)

A seal pup sitting by the side of the water looking up at the camera

2. Seals are highly intelligent

These curious animals show many signs of complex cognition. They employ impressive means to find food and escape danger, and have even been known to push drowning pets to safety. Sadly, their great intelligence is often exploited for the purposes of entertainment.

A seal pup jumping out of the water facing the camera

3. Seals are mammals

Ok, so you knew that. But did you also know that the milk mothers provide for their pups is up to 50% fat? This accounts for their impressively quick growth. Despite their chilly habitat seals are also warm blooded -  relying on large layers of fat known as blubber to keep warm.

A seal pup with flipper up and waving

4. There are 33 different species of seal

The largest of these is the elephant seal, weighing up to 8,800 pounds! At a mere 150 lbs, the ringed seal is the smallest cousin. All species give birth to their young on land.

An elephant seal on the sand

5. Seals can sleep underwater….

After all, they sometimes spend months at sea. Some can stay underwater for up to two hours, by slowing their heartbeat to preserve oxygen.

A seal swimming with head just above water

6. …and some can dive up to 3,000 feet

 A close-up of a seal pup by the side of the water

7. Seals are protected by international law

Traditionally, humans hunted seals for their meat, but they are now protected under international law and not are currently listed as an endangered species. However, they are still commonly kept in captivity. World Animal Protection believes they belong in the wild.

…But the elephant seal was once on the brink of extinction

In the 19th century, the elephant seal was hunted almost to extinction for its blubber, which produced oil. But from a colony of only 100, the population returned to around 160,000 today.

A seal swimming with his head up

9. Seals are carnivores

Feeding mainly on fish, squid, seabirds, shellfish and crustaceans, seals have a carnivorous diet. Some (such as the Leopard Seal) even eat other seal species.

A seal in the sea with head poking out of the water

10. They communicate with each other

Seals can communicate with each other effectively, using clicking and trilling noises. Different noises perform unique functions, from defending territory to warning other seals of incoming danger. A mother will create an instant bond with her pup by calling out to it.

Though seals aren’t listed as endangered, certain species are affected by hunting, lack of food and pollution. Seals are just one of the many animals at risk of severe injury from the 640,000 tonnes of fishing litter currently polluting the world’s oceans. Luckily, Our Sea Change campaign is focussed on tackling this issue, through reducing the amount of fishing litter that is entering our seas and removing that which is already there. Conservation projects are also underway to help clean the seas and swell current low numbers. Enquire in your area for any projects you can get involved with – and look out for our friends at Marine Mammals of Maine and the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary!

Thanks for stopping by. 

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