Field Guide - Ringed Seal

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Steve Amstrup, USGS
Adult ringed seal
Ringed seal pup

Ringed Seal

Pusa hispida

Number of Confirmed Sightings: 0

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Phocidae
Genus: Pusa
Species: hispida

Description: Ringed seals live in the Beaufort, Bering, and Chukchi Seas. They inhabit the sea ice, and create breathing holes and birthing lairs with their front claws. They use ice to rest, molt, and give birth. They can live up to 43 years.

Population status: There are no exact population estimates for ringed seals but because climate change is reducing their sea ice habitat, the Arctic, Okhotsk, and Baltic subspecies are listed as threatened, while the Ladoga subspecies is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In 2011, a number of sick or deceased ringed seals were discovered with patchy hair loss and lesions on their bodies. This was an unusual mortality event and the cause is currently unknown.

General characteristics: Smallest and most abundant of the Alaskan seals, up to 5 feet long and 150 pounds, gray back with ring-like marks around black spots, and white belly.

Female defining traits: Slightly shorter than males and found in snow lairs above ice breathing holes when pupping.

Male defining traits: Slightly longer than females, in the mating season their faces turn black and they give off a gasoline odor for territorial marking.

Juvenile defining traits: At birth they are about 10 pounds, have long off-white fur for 2–3 weeks, and are weaned at about 2 months old. They molt into a light gray adult coloring by 6 weeks old.

Diet in the wild: Shrimp, amphipods, euphausiids, squid, sculpin, and cod.

Reproductive cycle: Females and males reach sexual maturity at age 5–6. Females have one pup per year, and are born in April/May after a 10 month gestation period.

Predators in the wild: Polar bears, walrus, Arctic fox, and orcas.

Similar species: Bearded, spotted, and ribbon seals.