October 18, 2021

The bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus) is the largest species of seal in the Arctic Ocean. It is the only species of its genus and is divided into two subspecies, the Atlantic subspecies Erignathus barbatus barbatus and Erignathus barbatus Nautica found in the area between western Canada and Siberia. The name of the genus Erignathus derives from the Greek words different and gnathos, which refer to the heavy jaw of the species. The species name barbatus means beard and refers to the abundant mustache characteristic of the bearded seal. Size and appearance The bearded seal is 2.1 to 2.4 meters long and weighs 200 to 250 kg, up to 360 kg. Males and females are approximately the same size. Specimens in the Ohotan Sea area are smaller than average, measuring up to 200 cm in length and weighing only 190 kilograms. The body fat content of the bearded seal is 30-40%. The coloring of bearded seals varies from silver gray to dark brown. The chicks in particular sometimes have a few pale spots on their backs. The head is small in relation to the rest of the body, and the mustache is long. The jaws are long, but the teeth are atrophied and may be completely absent from old individuals. Bearded seals, unlike other seals, have four nipples. Distribution and habitat The bearded seal lives mainly in the Arctic Ocean, but is also found in the Ohotan Sea, the Bering Sea and the northern Atlantic and Pacific, and occasionally in Germany, Britain and Spain, among others. Bearded seals have also been found in Petsamo, one of Finland's surrendered areas. The bearded seal lives in relatively shallow waters. Individuals of the species usually rest on ice floes, but sometimes also on beaches. Reproduction and life cycle During the mating season, the bearded seals marry the females by making a singing sound underwater. Bearded seals give birth in the spring, in northern Canada in May, further south in Alaska as early as mid-March. The gestation period is nine months, and the chicks are usually born on small ice floes. The pups are born an average of 1.3 meters tall and weigh 34 kilograms. They are able to dive almost immediately after birth and are able to stay at a depth of 75 meters for five minutes when they are less than a week old. The mother takes care of her pup for 18-24 days, and the pup's weight increases rapidly. Females reach sexual maturity at 3 to 8 years of age and males at 5 to 7 years of age. The female usually gives birth for the first time between the ages of 6.5 and 7.2. Bearded seals usually live for about 25 years, but the longest-lived individual died at 31 years of age. Females are longer-lived than males.


The bearded seal catches small animals such as mussels, octopuses, sea sausages and fish, especially cod fish, from the feel of the seabed. The depth of prey is usually no more than 200 meters.


The Alaska region has previously been estimated at 250,000 to 300,000 individuals. Today, there is no information on the number of bearded seals. The bearded seal is preyed by polar bears, swordfish, humans and sometimes walruses. Bearded seals usually rest on ice near a groove or hole so they can escape the threat quickly. Humans prey on bearded seals because of the food, the skin, and the trauma that comes from it. In the Bering Sea, 1,500 to 2,000 individuals of the subspecies E. b. Nautica are hunted each year. In particular, Russian and Native Americans hunt bearded seals. The skin of seals is used to make umbrellas. Bearded seals are threatened by, among other things, the disappearance of sea ice due to climate change. Sources

Elsewhere on the topic

ARKive: Bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus) (in English) Animal Diversity Web (in English) Encyclopedia of Life: Erignathus barbatus (read 3.7.2010) (in English)

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