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harbor seal

harbor seal, most commonly seen seal of the Northern Hemisphere, Phoca vitulina. Harbor seals are found along coasts and in sheltered bays and harbors of North America, Europe, and NE Asia. They range farther south than any other northern seal, being found in North America as far S as New Jersey and S California. They range north to the southernmost limits of the ice cap. Also known as common seals, hair seals, and leopard seals, they enter rivers, and are even found in the Great Lakes. Small seals, they reach a length of up to 6 ft (180 cm) and a weight of up to 250 lb (110 kg). Their coats are gray with white spots or yellowish with gray or black blotches. Harbor seals are solitary hunters; they feed on fish, mollusks, and crustaceans, coming ashore to rest and sleep. They may gather in large numbers on rocks or beaches, especially at the mating season. They are polygamous and the female produces a single pup in early spring. Small colonies of several families each occupy particular locations in the water, usually near rocky shores or islands, and may remain there for many generations. Their greatest enemies are sharks and killer whales. Harbor seals are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Carnivora, suborder Pinnipedia, family Phocidae.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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