Sea Kayaking Trips Telegraph Cove
Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

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Harbor Seals

Phoca vitulina
Seals in the sun in Johnstone Strait

As their name suggests, harbor seals tend to live in harbors along the coastline, here in the Pacific Northwest. They are quite common and can frequently be seen resting on rocks protruding from the sea. Many seem to prefer to lie in what we call the banana position, lying on their side with head and hind flippers slightly elevated. As much as they occasionally like to haul out on land, seals are much better adapted to living in the water. They have no useful appendages to help them move on land and are forced to move like an inchworm, which makes an escape from a predator painfully slow and inefficient. The opposite is true in the sea, where their torpedo – shaped, streamlined bodies slice through the water with the aid of their front and back flippers. Seals, like other marine mammals,  have evolved from land mammals and are thought to have an otter-like common ancestor.

People in general have difficulty in distinguishing a seal from a sea lion. The 2 most obvious differences are the seal’s mottled coat and its lack of external ear flaps. Seals are also much smaller but this is difficult to assess when you can only see their heads and shoulders protruding from the water.

Harbor seals are curious by nature. They often follow kayakers for miles disappearing under water for minutes and reappearing in a totally different area, often using bull kelp as camouflage.

Because seals can significantly reduce their heart rate, they are able to dive underwater for up to 25 minutes before resurfacing for air but usually a dive will only last a few minutes.

Harbor Seals live an average of 25 – 35 years with the females living the longest. It is thought that the reason for this is all the fighting the males do especially during breeding season. Males tend to breed with several females, increasing their chances of passing on their genes to the next generation.

The average male reaches 6 feet and can weigh up to 300 lbs, the female is a little smaller.

In the spring or early summer, females come ashore to give birth; they only have one pup at a time, which stays with the mother for 4 – 6 weeks. Rearing the pup is the mother’s responsibility; the male does not contribute.

The favorite food of the seal is fish and crustaceans. They tend to swallow their food whole or in big chunks, chewing not being a manner they exercise.

Predators of the seal, in our region, are mostly transient Orca and man. Though their numbers are healthy, populations have declined due to culling, argued be a few individuals to be an essential practice in order to stop the decline of fish stocks.

Seals in the sun in Johnstone Strait
Seal among the sea weeds in Johnstone Strait
June Early July Mid July End of July to Mid August Mid Aug to Mid Sept Mid Sept to End Sept

Color Code

very rare
Some seals lazing

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