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Harbor seals are one of the most common marine mammals along the U.S. West and East Coasts. They are commonly seen resting on rocks and beaches along the coast and on floating ice in glacial fjords with their head and rear flippers elevated in a “banana-like” position. Harbor seals are part of the true seal family. All true seals have short forelimbs, or flippers. They also lack external ear flaps and instead have a small hole (opening to the ear canal) on either side of their head.


The harbor seal’s diet consists mainly of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans. Harbor seals complete both shallow and deep dives while hunting depending on the availability of prey. They can sleep underwater and come up for air once every 30 minutes.


Predators include killer whales, sharks, bears, coyotes, foxes, large birds, and Steller sea lions.


Harbor seals can become entangled in fishing gear and other types of marine debris, either swimming off with the gear attached or becoming anchored. They can become entangled in many different gear types, including gillnets, trawls, purse seines, or weirs. Illegal feeding of harbor seals can lead to many problems including habituation, aggression, negative impacts to fisheries, entanglement, injury, and death. Harassment, including repeated exposure to vessel traffic and disturbance, can degrade important nursery areas for harbor seals. Increased vessel traffic can also cause altered behavior, increased energetic expenditures, and increased exposure to stress.

(Information from NOAA Fisheries.