Seals are such a charismatic animal, and seal pups are nothing short of adorable. They are a wonder to watch in the water. They are friendly, rarely aggressive and love to be in large groups.
There are many fascinating facts about baby seals, and this post intends to look at a selection of them, as well as answering some of the most frequently asked questions. So let’s get started!
Baby Seals Facts
Baby Seals Are Called Pups
Similarly to baby dogs and baby rats, baby seals are called ‘pups‘, and are usually born in a ‘den‘ made out of pack ice, or on land. Male seals are called ‘bulls‘ and females are called ‘cows‘.
There are several collective nouns for a group of seals, with the most common being a ‘colony‘, a ‘rookery‘, and a ‘herd‘ of seals. There are no collective nouns for a group of baby seals specifically.
Seal Pups Are Recognized By Their Call
The relationship between a baby seal and its mother is truly remarkable. As soon as the pup cries out, the mother can easily distinguish her babies all from the call of other baby seals. She will respond quickly to her pups vocalizations.
Astonishingly, cape fur seals can identify the cry of their pup only two hours after giving birth – far superior to other mammals. To provide perspective, research indicates that even humans struggle in comparison; a mere 40% of women are able to recognize their child’s cry up to 24 hours post-delivery.
Some Seal Pups Can Swim As Soon As They Are Born
From the moment they come into this world, seal pups are highly curious. Some, particularly harbour seals, are also precocious and capable of swimming and accompanying their mommies into the water soon after birth. The skill is instinctual and they can move with grace very early.
Other seals may take between 2 days and 2 weeks, while others take up to 4 weeks to build up the courage to get into the water for the first time. Often once they are weaned from their mothers, or when she moves on, leaving them in the colony.
Baby Seals Gain Weight Quickly
As most seals live in very cold climates, insulation is key to survival. As such, they start to put on weight very quickly after they are born. Their mothers milk is full of fat to help them develop a thick layer of blubber. The milk can contain up to 60% fat!
Their carnivorous, fishy diet once they are weaned, is also full of fats and energy to fuel their growth and develop this insulating layer of blubber.
In one example, the Grey Seal, they can go from a birth weight of around 13 kg to a weight of 45 kg in as soon as 3 weeks!
Seal Pups Are Often Born In Large Colonies
They might not be born with siblings, but that doesn’t mean they are lonely. Very often, seals will come together in colonies that can potentially reach into the thousands, to give birth and raise their young together. Seal mothers will often return to the same breeding sites at the same time each year to give birth and raise their pups in the safety of a large group.
Climate Change Really Impacts Some Seal Pups
Ice is indispensable to the lifecycle of some seals, particularly ringed seals. The rapid loss of ice in the Arctic as the result of climate change can have a devastating impact on young seal pups.
The receding ice can result in pups being separated from their mothers too early during critical months. Mothers also have less ice on which to build protective dens. The result of these two dangers, is a massive rise in early deaths for ringed seal pups.
Baby Seals FAQs
What Is The Lifecycle Of A Baby Seal?
The pregnancy term for a seal varies between 8-12 months depending on the species. Harp seals and southern elephant seals for example, gestate for 8 months while brown fur seals and northern fur seals gestate for around 12 months.
There are four stages in a seals lifecycle. They start out as a foetus, gestating in the womb, then once born, they are nursing infant seals (baby seals), then juvenile and finally if they are lucky enough, they become adult seals.
Nursing infant seal pups stay with their mothers and nurse for around 4-6 weeks, then start to forage and feed themselves. At this point they become juvenile and can start surviving on their own. Some mothers only nurse for around 15-16 days, then leave the pups in the colony on their own.
Around 15 days they will lose their baby white fur through moulting, replaced by their adult coat.
Yong seals become sexually mature between 3 to 6 years and females mature quicker than males.
The lifespan of a baby seal ranges between an average of 25-40 years, depending on the species.
How Many Seals Are Born In A Litter?
Mothers usually give birth to one seal pup at a time. Twins have been documented, but it is very rare. They can give birth once per year, and they usually do so in the spring.
What Do Baby Seals Eat?
Baby seals nurse from their mothers, and rely on her milk for the first 4-6 weeks of their life. During this time, they may be left alone frequently while the mother hunts for food to keep her energy up and her milk rich and fatty.
Once they are weaned, they move onto a diet that consists mostly of fish like cod, herring, silverfish and salmon. They also eat octopus, squid, prawns and krill. Large leopard seals are also known to eat penguins, especially baby penguins, as well as other, smaller seals when they grow up.
How Big Do Baby Seals Grow?
The average baby seal, enters the world at around 20 – 25 lbs in weight, and about 3 feet in length, but it does vary across the species. They start to put on weight fast, up to 5 – 6 lbs per day but some grow to be much bigger than others.
Baby seals can vary greatly in their growth between the different breeds. In the Antarctic, female fur seals are the tiniest of all, with adult specimens typically weighing only 150 kg in comparison to their gargantuan male counterparts – Southern elephant seals who can reach a staggering 4000 kg!
In the northern hemisphere, Baikal and Ringed seals are also small, reaching between 110–140 cm (3.6–4.6 ft) long and 50–130 kg (110–290 lbs). The largest northern species are the Northern Elephant Seals, which can reach up to 3.7 meters in length and a weight of 1,500 – 2,300 kg (Male), or 400 – 900 kg (Female). Leopard seal pups also grow into huge seals,, reaching up to 3.6 meters in length and 300-500 kg in weight.
Where Do Baby Seals Live?
Baby seals are usually born on land or ice in a maternal den, but also occasionally in shallow coastal beach water. They live with their mothers while young, and usually in a pack of many families all raising their young together.
Seals are quite a common sight in cool waters and along most coastlines. Most however, can be found inhabiting the icy regions of the Arctic and Antarctic. There are 30 different species of seal!
There are six species that live in the Antarctic waters. They are:
There are a set of seals collectively known as the ‘ice seals’ that are specifically Arctic inhabitants. They are:
- Bearded Seals
- Ribbon Seals
- Ringed Seals
- Spotted Seals
Other seals that live in the Arctic include Northern Fur Seals and Harbor Seals also known as the Common Seal. Some of these, particularly the Harbor Seal may also be seen off the coast of North America, Canada and Northern Europe, particularly Scotland and Norway.
One exceptional species which prefers warm water over cold, is the Hawaiian monk seal, which live off the Northern Hawaiian Islands.
Natural Predators Of Baby Seals
There are many predators of seals and particularly baby seals. However, the range of predators does change depending on location and also the species of seal. Larger seals for example have less natural predators than smaller seals. Some larger seals, such as leopard seals, may even eat the pups of smaller seals!
The Common/Harbor Seal, has more predators than most others, which is no surprise given its massive range. They may have to content with land predators such as wolves, coyotes and bears including polar bears. Birds of prey, including bald eagles have also been know to grab young seal pups for a meal.