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21 Types of Seals: Species, Facts and Photos

Marine ecosystems without seals will not be complete. They could be adorable like sea lions and, at other times, ferocious like walrus. Various types of seals feature unique characteristics and behavior, providing valuable insights into adaptive life in different aquatic environments. Read on to learn more.

Related Read: Animals that Start with S.

Seal Classification

Seals are semi-aquatic marine mammals belonging to the Pinnipedia suborder under the order Carnivora. They are spread across three families and consist of 33 species. 

The Phocidae family, also known as the true or earless seals, is one such group. It covers species like the hooded seal and leopard seal. Next, the eared seals of the Otariidae family include sea lions and fur seals. Finally, the Odobenidae family has only one member, the walrus. 

Seals inhabit nearly every marine environment, from the Arctic and Antarctic to the seas around Hawaii.

Related Read: Seal Facts.

21 Types of Seal Species

1. Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina)

Harbor Seal
Photo by Charles J. Sharp on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Harbor seal is a marine mammal found in the coastal waters of the northern hemisphere. They have streamlined bodies and dappled coats ranging from silver-gray to brown or black. 

Likewise, Harbor seals are skilled swimmers and divers, capable of diving up to 1,600 feet deep and staying underwater for almost half an hour while hunting for food.  Their diet includes fish, squid, shellfish, and crustaceans. 

Although they are typically solitary animals, they gather in groups during molting and breeding seasons.

2. Gray Seal (Halichoerus grypus)

gray seal
Photo by Waitblock on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The North Atlantic is home to Gray Seals and large pinnipeds with snouts resembling horses. This is why they are also called Horsehead Seals. 

They are skilled hunters with a diverse diet that includes fish, squid, crustaceans, and seabirds. 

Gray seals gather in large numbers during the breeding season. 

Gray seals can also dive deep into the ocean, up to 1,000 feet below the water's surface, and hold their breath for up to 16 minutes.

3. Harp Seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus)

Harp Seal
Photo by ik_hou_van_je on Flickr licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Harp seals are a species found in the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans. They have a distinctive black harp or wishbone-shaped pattern contrasting their silvery-gray fur. However, harp seal pups are born with a yellowish-white coat that transforms into pure white within a few days. 

They are natural swimmers, diving up to 880 feet deep and holding their breath for nearly 15 minutes.

Likewise, harp seals enjoy spending time in large groups on ice floes or swimming together. They communicate through a variety of vocalizations, body movements, and scents. Moreover, harp seals can live up to 35 years in the wild.

4. Ringed Seal (Pusa hispida)

Ringed Seal
Photo by NOAA Seal Survey on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

The Ringed Seal is the smallest of the Arctic seals, featuring dark spots surrounded by light rings on their fur. As the smallest seal in the Arctic, they weigh 110 to 150 pounds and measure up to 5 feet long. 

Their diet consists of small fish and invertebrates. Moreover, they have a long lifespan, often reaching 25 to 30 years.

Ringed Seals are loners and rely on ice for survival. A study explains they could be the first marine mammals affected by climate change2.

5. Bearded Seal (Erignathus barbatus)

Bearded Seal
Photo by Smudge 9000 on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Bearded Seal, also known as the Square Flipper Seal, is a solitary creature that lives in the Arctic Ocean and its neighboring seas. They are one of the largest species of true seals, weighing up to 950 pounds and stretching up to 8.9 feet long. 

Bearded Seals are exceptional divers and prefer the shallows. They are a major food source for polar bears and the Inuit of the Arctic coast.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act protects these types of seals due to threats such as ice loss induced by climate change, hunting, and by-catch of commercial fishing.

6. Weddell Seal (Leptonychotes weddellii)

Weddell Seal
Photo by Godot13 on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Weddell Seal lives in the Antarctic region. They are named after Sir James Weddell, a British explorer who discovered them in the 1800s. They are one of the largest types of seals, with a length of up to 11.5 feet and a weight of 880 to 1,320 pounds. 

This type of seal has a mix of dark grey and silver coats and emits vocalizations to attract mates and ward off competitors. 

Weddell Seals can also dive up to 2,000 feet deep and hold their breath for over an hour while searching for crustaceans and cephalopods. They also carve out breathing holes in the ice using their teeth. 

During the breeding season, each mother seal gives birth to a single pup and takes care of it for about six to seven weeks.

7. Leopard Seal (Hydrurga leptonyx)

Leopard Seal
Photo by Andrew Shiva on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

Leopard seals feature a distinctive appearance, predatory skills, and prehistoric look. They can reach up to 11.5 feet and 1,320 pounds. They sport a gray coat speckled with darker splotches, reflecting their namesake, the leopard's rosette-patterned fur.

With their massive jaws and sharp teeth, these predatory seals are near the top of the food chain. They not only feed on krill, squid, and fish, but they also hunt penguins and other seals. Killer whales and large sharks are their only known predators.

Likewise, they might be solitary creatures but are bold and curious, often approaching human divers. 

8. Crabeater Seal (Lobodon carcinophaga)

Crabeater Seal
Photo by Liam Quinn on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Crabeater Seal is a species in the Antarctic region. However, the name "Crabeater" is misleading as they are not crab specialists but krill specialists. Their unique teeth are sieves to filter out krill from the frigid waters. 

They have a slender, torpedo-shaped body that extends up to 7.5 feet, with light-grey fur patterned by darker streaks.

While population estimates are not entirely determined, the abundance of these types of seals is most likely to be less than one million1.

9. Caspian Seal (Pusa caspica)

The Caspian Sea is a landlocked water body between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It is home to the Caspian Seal, the only mammal in this brackish habitat. It is one of the smallest in the seal family, measuring up to 4.25 feet and weighing 190 pounds. 

The seals have a lifestyle closely tied to the sea's rhythm, and their habitats change as the seasons change. During winter, the Caspian Seals migrate north to breed and molt on the ice. Then, when summer arrives, they journey southwards to feed on various fish and crustaceans. 

They prefer solitude, except during the breeding season when they form large colonies on the ice. Every year, between January and February, each female gives birth to a single pup. 

Unfortunately, they are one of the endangered seal species according to IUCN. A 70% decline in the last generation was due to hunting, by-catch, predation, diseases, and other threats.

10. Baikal Seal (Pusa sibirica)

 Baikal Seal
Photo by Sergey Gabdurakhmanov on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Baikal Seal lives exclusively in Lake Baikal, Siberia, the world’s oldest lake. Even if other types of seals are recorded to visit freshwater seals, Baikal Seals are the world’s only freshwater seals. A study hypothesized they could swamp up the rivers, or the lake was once connected to the ocean millions of years ago.

Exhibiting a round body and small head, the Baikal seal attains lengths up to 4.6 feet. Its dense, silver-grey fur mirrors the colors of its habitat. It can dive up to 1,300 feet underwater for up to 40 minutes, primarily to forage for Baikal oilfish. 

11. Spotted Seal (Phoca largha)

Spotted Seal
Photo by Nico Becker on Pexels.

The Spotted Seal is a marine mammal living in the North Pacific Ocean. It has a light grey body covered with dark spots that help it camouflage in its icy environment. The seal feeds mainly on fish. 

During the breeding season, males and females unite to mate, and their unique songs resound across the icy expanses. After giving birth to a single pup, the female provides care and attention for a few weeks before weaning.

Then, the pup must embark on its solitary journey through the vast, cold ocean.

12. Northern Elephant Seal (Mirounga angustirostris)

Northern Elephant Seal
Photo by Mike Baird on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Northern Elephant Seal is a species of seal in the Pacific Ocean. The male elephant seals are larger than the females and have a unique proboscis that makes loud noises.

They can dive up to 5,700 feet, on average at 1,600 feet, deep for hours, foraging for fish, squids, and various crustaceans.

During the breeding season, the males compete fiercely for the right to mate. Meanwhile, the females give birth to a pup each year and nurse them for about a month before venturing independently.

13. Southern Elephant Seal (Mirounga leonina)

The Southern Elephant Seal is the largest marine mammal in the world, with adult males growing up to 19 feet long and weighing as much as 8,200 pounds. 

They have an inflatable proboscis resembling an elephant's trunk and prefer congregating in New Zealand, South Africa, and Argentina. 

Despite their large size, they are agile and strong in the water, spending over 80% of their lives submerged in the icy depths. They can dive up to 3,300 feet underwater, hunting squid and fish where other marine predators do not venture. 

14. Ross Seal (Ommatophoca rossii)

The Ross Seal is a unique species in Antarctica's remote and icy regions. It has a long and slender body, large eyes, and short, broad snouts that help it catch its preferred prey, squid and fish. 

This type of seal creates siren-like sounds with two varying tones. Interestingly, they produced their sound with a closed mouth3, emitting no air on ice or underwater.

15. Hawaiian Monk Seal (Neomonachus schauinslandi)

Hawaiian Monk Seal
Photo by MarkSullivan on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Hawaiian Monk Seal inhabits the beaches of Hawaii. Their preference for the warm waters of Hawaii has put them at risk as one of the most endangered seal species in the world. 

With 632 mature seals in the wild5, based on recent IUCN reports, the seal population declined because of food limitations, entanglement with marine debris, predation, and other threats.

Still, they can dive over 1,800 feet and hold their breath for up to 20 minutes while hunting fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans. 

The females of the species are slightly larger than the males and have a range of colors in their coats. Meanwhile, the young are born with black fur and begin foraging for food after six weeks of nursing.

16. Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus)

The Mediterranean Monk Seal, approximately 7.5 feet long, has a smooth, black or dark brown coat. It tends to inhabit remote and cavernous coastlines of the Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic regions.

They are active during the day and spend their time resting on rocky coastlines or in underwater caves. They feed on various oceanic creatures and can dive up to 70 meters deep for food. 

This type of seal is another endangered species, with only 450 mature individuals in the wild based on the latest assessments4. This decline is a consequence of commercial seal hunting and human persecution.

Fortunately, their population is on an uptrend thanks to the many conservation efforts, such as Greece's and Turkey's national action plans.

17. Caribbean Monk Seal (Neomonachus tropicalis)

The Caribbean Monk Seal, also known as the West Indian Seal or Sea Wolf, was a marine mammal found in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. 

They were known for their distinctive features, including a broad, flat head and large, wide-spaced eyes. Likewise, they were friendly and curious, often approaching humans and boats. 

Unfortunately, their trusting nature made them easy targets for hunters, who hunted for their skin and oil. Overfishing of their food sources also led to their demise. The IUCN Red List has considered them extinct since 1982, with the last confirmed sighting in 1952.

18. Ribbon Seal (Histriophoca fasciata)

Ribbon Seal
Photo by Bering Land Bridge National Preserve on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Ribbon Seal is a unique species in the Arctic's icy waters. They have dark skin with white bands around their neck and flippers. These solitary creatures prefer the chilly waters of the Bering and Okhotsk Seas. 

These types of seals have a large air sac in their neck that they can inflate at will, which may be a way for them to make vocal sounds during the breeding season. 

They are impressive divers, capable of plunging as deep as 650 feet and holding their breath for up to 20 minutes. They feed on fish, shrimp, krill, and squid underwater. 

19. Northern Fur Seal (Callorhinus ursinus)

Northern Fur Seal
Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

The Northern Fur Seal features a thick and luxurious coat. Males are significantly larger, reaching up to 6.9 feet and weighing up to 600 pounds. They live in the North Pacific, reaching the coastlines of south Japan to Baja California. 

During the summer, half of the population bred on the beaches of the Pribilof Islands, where male seals compete fiercely. Meanwhile, females give birth to a single pup each year and nurture their young for about four months.

Unfortunately, IUCN categorized Northern Fur Seals as vulnerable species with a decreasing population trend due to extreme commercial harvesting.

20. Brown Fur Seal (Arctocephalus pusillus)

Brown Fur Seal
Photo by JJ Harrison on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Brown Fur Seal, also known as the Cape Fur Seal and Australian Fur Seal, lives along the coasts of Southern Australia and South Africa. 

They are the largest in the fur seal family with external ears, with males weighing around 660 pounds and stretching up to 7.5 feet. 

Moreover, they can dive up to 670 feet underwater, searching for fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans. They are also playful and friendly, socializing on the shore and frolicking in the waves. 

21.  Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus)

Walrus
Photo by Gary Bembridge on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Walruses, often reaching 12 feet in length with coarse, cinnamon-colored skin and large tusks, inhabit arctic regions, favoring sea ice and coastal areas. They feed mainly on mollusks, particularly clams.

Their tusks, protruding up to 3 feet, are elongated canine teeth used for various tasks like breaking through ice, combat, and hauling their large bodies onto land. Unlike other types of seals, walruses have wrinkled, almost bald skin. Below the skin, up to 6 inches of blubber provides insulation and energy reserves, a far thicker layer than most seals have.

However, the conservation status of walruses is vulnerable due to the adverse impact of climate change on their habitats.

1

Southwell, C., Paxton, C. G. M., Borchers, D. L., Boveng, P. L., & De La Mare, W. (2007). Taking account of dependent species in management of the Southern Ocean krill fishery: estimating crabeater seal abundance off east Antarctica. Journal of Applied Ecology, 45(2), 622–631.

2

Ferguson, S. H., Stirling, I., & McLoughlin, P. D. (2005). CLIMATE CHANGE AND RINGED SEAL (PHOCA HISPIDA) RECRUITMENT IN WESTERN HUDSON BAY. Marine Mammal Science, 21(1), 121–135.

3

 Watkins, W. A., & Ray, G. C. (1985). In‐air and underwater sounds of the Ross seal, Ommatophoca rossi. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 77(4), 1598–1600.

4

Karamanlidis, A. & Dendrinos, P. 2015. Monachus monachus (errata version published in 2017). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T13653A117647375. 

5

Littnan, C., Harting, A. & Baker, J. 2015. Neomonachus schauinslandi. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T13654A45227978. 

By Mike Gomez, BA.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Photo by mana5280 on Unsplash.
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