The North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission

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General Characteristics

The ringed seal is the smallest of all living seal species. It is the most common seal of the Arctic and the most strongly ice-adapted/associated. 

Ringed seals are divided into five subspecies on the basis of geographical isolation: Phoca hispida hispida of the Arctic Ocean (the Arctic ringed seal), P. hispida ochotensis of the Sea of Okhotsk and northern Japan, P. hispida botnica of the Baltic Sea and two living in fresh water lakes, P. hispida ladogensis of Lake Ladoga in Russia, and P. hispida saimensis of Lake Saimaa in Finland.

The subspecies Pusa hispida hispida, the Arctic ringed seal, which inhabits all of the circumpolar Arctic Ocean, is the only subspecies present in the NAMMCO area.

 

ARosing Asvid Copy of ringsael2

Photo: A. Rosing-Asvid

Average size

Adult individuals reach between 1.10 and 1.60 m in length and weigh between 50 and 110 kg in winter when they are fattest (Rosing-Asvid 2010), males being somewhat larger than females (Bonner 1994). There is considerable geographical variation in size within and among areas (Reeves et al. 1992).

Lifespan

Up to 45 years (Lydersen 1998)

Productivity

One pup every year from 4–8 years of age. The pups are born in a snow-covered birth lair — a unique feature among seals. There is a high mortality of pups, due in particular to predation by polar bears and arctic foxes. 

Migration and movements

Ringed seals are completely adapted to ice-covered waters and do not migrate to open water areas in the winter. However, individual seals may relocate over considerable distances (few thousand km) and substantial migrations, either north-south or inshore-offshore, have been suggested (e.g., Reeves 1998).

Feeding

Ringed seals are opportunistic feeders, preying on a wide variety of fish, crustaceans and cephalopods, with polar cod being a common prey species of adults, while younger seals feed heavily on amphipods and euphausiids. There are important regional and seasonal differences in diet, reflecting habitat-specific prey availability (Kelly et al. 2010b, Kovacs 2014).

 

ARosing Asvid 10006

Photo: A. Rosing-Asvid

Names

Latin: Pusa/Phoca hispida (Schreber, 1775)

Faroese: Ringkópur
Greenlandic: Natseq
Icelandic: Hringanórir
Norwegian: Ringsel

English: Ringed seal, fjord seal, jar seal
French: Phoque annelé, phoque marbré
Spanish: Foca ocelada
Danish: Ringsæl


General

The ringed seal belongs to the family of true seals, also called phocids, and earless or hair seals. The name of the ringed seal refers to the light-coloured rings on the dark grey pelt that are visible on adult animals and prominent on the back and sides. The pup begins shedding its fine, woolly and white lanugo (the hair of fetal and newborn seals) at about 2 months of age when it is replace by a largely un-spotted coat, silver on the belly and dark grey on the back, the same colour as the adults. Animals with this coat are called silver-jars, they acquire rings on their pelage gradually with age.

The ringed seal body is fusiform in shape. In winter, when seals are the fattest, the girth can exceed 80% of the body length (Reeves et al. 1992). The muzzle is short and the head cat-like. Males are slightly larger than females, and in the spring male’s faces appear to be much darker than those of females because of an oily secretion from glands in the facial region. At other times of the year the sexes are difficult to distinguish.

The adults have strong, sharp foreclaws, which are used to maintain breathing holes in the fast ice. Pups are born with the full complement of permanent adult teeth.

Ringsel Kovacs

Photo: K.M. Kovacs and C. Lydersen / Norwegian Polar InstituteTJacobsen Ringed seal Skjoldungen SE Greenland MG 5081

Photo: T. Jacobsen, www.Polarimages.dk

Listen to ringed seals here and here!

 

See videos and photos of a mother and pup swimming under the ice here