Spotted Seals, (Phoca Largha) like other species of seals that inhabit the Arctic, are under threat from global warming and the effects of climate change on their habitat. There is also mounting concern that oil and gas extraction will lead to increased disturbances and pollution will affect the seals, their habitat and their food supply. Spotted Seals are also listed as nationally endangered by the Chinese government and they are the only species of seal to breed in that country. However, illegal hunting, entanglement in fishing nets, loss of habitat and reduced quantities of food are still problems that need to be taken into consideration. Spotted Seals are also targeted as a source of food by Russian fox fur farmers.
Spotted seals will breed along the edges of the pack ice during early spring. Mating is thought to take place under water, with the male joining up with the female shortly before she has given birth. Males are annually monogamous. Gestation periods last for approximately 10 months.
Depending on their location, pupping will take place between February-May. As can be seen from the photo (top right) pups are born with a whitish coat. They will moult when they are around a month and a half old, which tends to coincide with their weaning.
Pups are born weighing approximately 9kgs and measure between 75 and 90 cm in length. There does tend to be some size differences according to which area they hail from. Pup mortality rates for the first year tend to be quite high, as much as 45%
Adult males and females vary in size too, depending on their region. Males weigh on average between 85 -150kg and measure roughly 1.6-2.1m in length. They reach sexual maturity when they are between 4 and 5 years of age. Females are slightly smaller than the males. They weigh between 70 kg and 115 kg and measure 1.4 m to 1.7 m in length. The species can live to over 35 years.
Spotted Seals and Harbour Seals were once thought to be the same species. Their ranges do tend to overlap and some interbreeding has been observed.
Spotted Seal pups take longer than any of the other phocids (earless seals) to learn to swim and take to the water.
There is no accurate population statistic for this species though their number could be anything between 100 thousand and 300 thousand.
Their diet comprises of a variety of fish, cephalopods and shrimp. Diet varies considerably between seasons and region. They dive on average to a depth of around 300 m while in search of food.
They are preyed upon by Steller Sea Lions, sharks, Polar bears, Brown bears, Walruses, Arctic Foxes, wolves and even large birds of prey.
Spotted Seals are also known as Larga Seals or by tradition Alaskans in the Yupik language as Issuriq. They have no sub-species.
Entanglement in a variety of nets is a problem. These seals have even been known to get entangled in Salmon Trap Nets, particularly off the Nemuro Peninsula in Japan.
There are three distinct breeding populations. Two of the three have not been listed as endangered or threatened by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The press release is available HERE
There is little information on the species during the colder months. It is presumed they remain in the water during the entire winter.
Commercial hunting of Spotted Seals no longer takes place in Japan, though small scale subsistence hunting does still occur. The Japanese Government have considered a proposed re-introduction of the seal hunt. On 13 February we opposed the move by way of an open letter to the government of that country. Feel free to join THE GLOBAL OUTCRY
Spotted Seals are skittish animals and as such are difficult to observe. They do not like human interference and will dive in the water if approached.