Field Guide - Bearded Seal

< All Field Guides

Adult bearded seal
Bearded seal pup

Bearded Seal

Erignathus barbatus

Number of Confirmed Sightings: 0

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Phocidae
Genus: Erignathus
Species: barbatus

Description: Bearded seals live in Alaska’s Beaufort, Bering, and Chukchi Seas in waters less than 650 feet deep. This species uses sea ice to rest, give birth, and molt, and is rarely found on land. They are relatively solitary animals and can live more than 25 years.

Population status: Population estimates for bearded seals are difficult because of their remote habitat, but reduced sea ice due to climate change poses threats to their habitat. As a result, the Beringia and Okhotsk distinct population segments are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

General characteristics: The largest of the Arctic seals, approximately 8 feet and 575–800 pounds, dark brown and silver/gray in color without any markings, small head compared to body size, small square fore flippers, thick and long white whiskers, and adults have worn down or missing teeth later in life.

Female defining traits: Weighs slightly more than males.

Male defining traits: Weighs slightly less than females, vocalizes during breeding season, and may have scars from protecting their territory from other males.

Juvenile defining traits: Newborn pups have a soft gray-brown coat and are weaned ~15 days after birth. The soft coat is molted about a month after birth as they gain more blubber.

Diet in the wild: Sea floor species such as cod, crab, shrimp, clams, and octopus.

Reproductive cycle: Females reach sexual maturity at age 5–6, males at age 6–7, and females have one pup per year in mid-March to May after 8.5 months gestation.

Predators in the wild: Polar bears, orcas, and occasionally walruses.

Similar species: Ringed, spotted, and ribbon seals.