Hooded Seals (Cystophora Cristata) get their name from the distinctive inflatable like “hood” as sported by males on their foreheads, which they blow up like a balloon when they are excited. Juvenile Hood Seals, known as “Blue Backs” were heavily targeted for their prized pelts by commercial sealers from the 1940’s onwards. Mounting public pressure resulted in in the EEC instituting a ban on the import of Blue Back products as far back as 1983 with Canada banning the hunting of Blue Backs in 1987. Despite this ban, illegal hunting continues to this day. In 1996, Canadian authorities seized 22 800 Blue Back pelts that had been slaughtered during the commercial Canadian Hunt.
Pups are born during the months of March and April with an already well developed insulating layer of blubber. Their “Blue Back” juvenile coat is shed when they are just over a year old.
Nursing for these animals is the shortest of all mammals, a mere 4 days. During this short time, pups will DOUBLE their weight, from around 24kg to 47kg!! At the same time, the mother will lose an average of 10kg per day as she feeds her pup on high fat content milk.
Once the female has given birth, males will immediately begin jostling for her affections. Mating takes place in the water. After a successful mate, males will return almost immediately to the ice in search of another chance to breed.
Adult males reach sexual maturity at between 5-7years. They weigh up to 400kg (max) and measure around 3m in length. Females reach sexual maturity at between 3-6 years, weigh up to 230kg (max) and measure around 2m in length. They live to between 30 and 35 years.
Hooded seals can dive to a depth of over 1 000m and can remain submerged for over 50 minutes.
The males “hood” is an enlarged nasal cavity that develops when the animal is around 4 years old. When inflated, this “balloon” can be twice the size of a football. When deflated, it hangs over the side of the animals face. A similarly inflatable nasal membrane allows them to make noises during threat displays and mating.
They are preyed upon by Killer Whales, Greenland Sharks as well as Polar Bears.
Canadian Fisheries regularly make calls for these seals to be culled. Their bias is that seals are responsible for a drop in fish stocks. This argument is banal in the extreme and we suggest the commercial fisheries start accepting their own role in the decline of fishing stocks.
The species has been listed as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. (IUCN) and their population numbers are steadily decreasing.
Hooded seals are under threat from several factors, including entanglement, global warming, marine pollution, illegal and legal hunting as well as disease.
Although these seals feed mainly on a diet of fish, they will readily consume squid and octopus too.
The total Hooded Seal population is estimated to be around 650 000. They are a highly migratory species though their migratory patterns are not well documented.
Subsistence hunting of these seals in Greenland accounts for between 4 000 and 6 000 animals each year, with an extra 100- 150 taken in Canada.