Scientific name

Phoca vitulina

Whale SENSE Region Found:



Protection status

Protected throughout its range

Where to watch:

Harbor seals can found along the U.S. East and West Coasts, including Alaska.

They are commonly seen resting on rocks and beaches along the coast and on floating ice in glacial fjords.

What to watch for:

Body: They have short forelimbs (flippers) and lack external ear flaps, instead having a small hole (opening to the ear canal) on either side of their head.

On land, they will often lay with their head and rear flippers elevated in a “banana-like” position.

In the water, their heads appear as round “bowling balls” at the surface.

Coloration varies, but two basic patterns occur: light gray sides and belly with dark blotches or spots, or a dark background with light rings. 

Size: Length: Up to 6 feet, Weight: 285 pounds.

Did you know?

  • Pups weight about 24 pounds at birth and are ready to swim within minutes. They are nursed for 4 to 6 weeks on milk that is 50 percent fat.
  • In order to find prey in dark or murky water, harbor seals will use their sensitive vibrissae (whiskers) to detect vibrations. This is done by pushing their upper lip in and out, sweeping their vibrissae through the water.

What do harbor seals sound like?

Clip provided by NOAA Fisheries

Threats to harbor seals

Learn more about harbor seals