GIANT SEALS SCARED THE BEEJEEZUS OUT OF ME!

While filming the tiny Dovekie as he was blithely bopping along in the inner Harbor, dip diving for breakfast and seeming to find plenty to eat, suddenly from directly beneath the Dovekie, two ginromous chocolate brown heads popped up. Almost sea serpent-like and so completely unexpected! I leapt up and totally ruined the shot, and the little Dovekie was even more startled. He didn’t fly away but ran pell mell across the water about fifteen feet before giving a furtive look back, and then submerging himself.

So there we were face to face, only about twenty feet apart. We spent a good deal of time eyeing each other, several minutes at least, both trying to figure out the other’s next move. Their eyes are so large and expressively beautiful. Down they dove and search as I might, could not spot them again.

There have been plenty of Harbor Seals seen in Gloucester Harbor, but I have never been so close to a Grey Seal, and so delighted to see not one, but two!

The following are a number of ways to tell the difference between a Harbor Seal and a Grey Seal.

Harbor Seals are smaller (5 to 6 feet) than average Grey Seals (6 feet 9 inches long to 8 feet 10 inches long). Bull Grey Seals have been recorded measuring 10 feet 10 inches long!

Harbor Seals have a concave shaped forehead, with a dog-like snout. The head of a Grey Seal is elongated, with a flatter forehead and nose.

Harbor Seal head shape left, Grey Seal head right

Harbor Seals have a heart or V-shaped nostrils. The nostrils of Grey Seals do not meet at the bottom and create more of a W-shape.

Harbor Seal heart, or V-shaped, nostrils

Grey Seal W-shaped nostrils

Grey Seals are not necessarily gray. They are also black and brown. Their spots are more irregular than the spots of a Harbor Seal.

Grey Seals and Harbor Seals are true “earless seals,” which does not mean that they cannot hear but are without external ear flaps.

Dovekie Gloucester Harbor

A GHOULISH SCENE AND CANNIBALISM IN SEALS

With their big brown winsome eyes, we tend to think seals are sweet and adorable. But just as there are abnormal behaviors in people, so too do other species of mammals possess aberrant traits.

Yesterday morning while heading down to take a walk on the beach I was wondering if anything interesting had washed ashore with the previous day’s king tide. At that very moment I looked over the shoreline and saw what appeared to be a small seal in the seaweed. I approached cautiously from behind because from a distance it appeared as though it was resting.

We’ve all seen seals washed ashore but I have never seen one with the skin peeled away, down to the very muscle, and with the layer of blubber so clearly defined. The seal was small and slender–from tip to tail about two and a half feet–if that.

The area all around the seal was undisturbed, which led me to believe it was not a coyote. The face and neck skin were so cleanly removed, it wasn’t a boat propellor, but it had to have happened in the water. What kind of creature would skin a seal?

Not only do Grey Seals eat Harbor Seals and Harbor Porpoises, but bull Grey Seals have been documented eating young of their own kind. It may be more common than previously thought. After reading the description of how an adult Grey Seal drowned, and then ate a pup, I suspect there is the possibility that this young seal was killed by a Grey Seal.

Have any of our readers ever seen a skinned seal and if yes, please tell us what you may, or may not, know. Thank you.

The following is footage of a male Grey Seal eating a Grey Seal pup, with brackets placed around the link so that you can chose to not to see this disturbing video if you do not care to. [https://youtu.be/SmklASZUrZ8]

Corkscrew Seals: Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) Infanticide and Cannibalism May Indicate the Cause of Spiral Lacerations in Seals

Abstract

Large numbers of dead seals with characteristic spiral lesions have been washing ashore around the North Atlantic over the past two decades. Interactions with ship propellers and shark predation have been suggested as the likely causal mechanisms. However, new evidence points towards a more likely candidate: grey seal predation. An adult male grey seal was observed and recorded catching, killing and eating five weaned grey seal pups over a period of one week on the Isle of May, Scotland. A further 9 carcasses found in the same area exhibited similar injuries. Post mortem analysis of lesions indicated the wound characteristics were similar to each other and in 12 of the 14 carcasses analysed, were indistinguishable from carcasses previously attributed to propeller interaction. We therefore propose that most of the seal carcasses displaying spiral lacerations in the UK are caused by grey seal predation. Cases in other locations should be re-evaluated using the scoring system presented here to identify whether grey seal predation is a major cause of mortality in phocid seals.

Read the full paper here.

THE HARBOR SEAL’S COAT OF MANY COLORS -By Kim Smith

Are these two seals even the same species? 

The answer is yes, both are Atlantic Harbor Seals! By far the most commonly seen seals found along the Cape Ann coastline are Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina), also called Common Seals, and with multiple sightings, they have certainly been making their presence known this past week. The coloring and spotted patterning of the Harbor Seal’s coat is highly variable, as you can see in the above photo, ranging from chocolate brown-black to palest silvery gray.

In recent years, Gray Seals have made an incredible comeback and are seen with much greater regularity in Cape Ann waters. And with their increasing numbers, the Great White Shark is also increasing in number, as Gray Seals are their preferred food. I don’t have a photo of Gray Seals, but found several on wiki commons media for the sake of comparing.

Gray Seals


Notice the Harbor Seals small and concave shaped head.

Harbor Seal vs. Gray Seal

  • Harbor Seals have a head that looks a bit too small for its body, with a concave shape, whereas the Gary Seal’s head is more proportionate, with a long straight snout–no distinguishable brow.
  • Harbor Seals nose nostrils are V-shaped; Gray Seals are shaped like a W.
  • Gray Seals are much larger at maturity: A full grown male Gray Seal weighs about 770 pounds, a full grown male Harbor Seal about 350 pounds, less than half the size of the Gray Seal.
  • When hauled-out Harbor Seals adopt a funny banana shape- ‘head up, tail up’ posture.

 

Notice the Gray Seals elongated snout and W-shaped nostrils

Harbor Seals V-shaped nostrils

Harbor Seal banana-shape

READ MORE HERE about the different species of seals found in Massachusetts from the Center of Coastal Studies.

Excerpt:

Harbor Seals are relatively small (1.5 meters, or 5 feet long), with a coat that varies somewhat with age, wetness and between individuals. Some pups are born with a light colored, lanugo coat (fetal fur that most mammals shed before birth). The lanugo coat is shed within a few weeks of birth. Most seals, though, are born with an adult coat that darkens with age.

Females in this area usually give birth in late spring and early summer. It is thought that females from Massachusetts migrate to quiet islands in New Hampshire and southern Maine to pup. Historically, harbor seals pupped in Massachusetts, and there are increasing sightings of very small pups here in May and June. Pups are able to swim within minutes after birth and can travel with the female while she hunts. On Stellwagen, small pups are often found treading water while waiting for mom to return from a dive.

Adults of both sexes are similar in appearance, with lighter undersides, brown to gray topsides and differing amounts of irregular spots throughout. Harbor seals’ front flippers have relatively small claws, and the claws of their hind flippers are tiny. At sea, they can be hard to spot. Only their heads are visible as they come up for air, their snouts are small and pointed, and they have a small but definite brow. If you have binoculars, you can spot ear openings just behind the eyes.

image002

Profiles of male and female gray seals.
NMFS Permit No. 775-1600-10

Gray Seals, Halichoerus gypus, are the largest seal found in the area, with males growing to 8 feet and weighing over 900 pounds (2.3 m. and 300-350 kg.). Females are somewhat smaller, measuring 7 feet and weighing less than 600 pounds (2 m. and 150-200 kg.). Besides size, the sexes differ in a number of ways: males tend to be darker with few light spots, while females tend to be light with dark, irregular blotches. Young can be easily confused with harbor seals. With a head-on view, gray seals have wide-set nostrils that form a W, while harbor seals have close-set nostrils that form a small V. Sometimes called horseheads, gray seals of both sexes have broad, long snouts that become more pronounced, especially in males.

Gray seals are endemic to the North Atlantic, ranging from the Baltic,western Europe to Canada and Northeastern United States. In recent years, the number of gray seals in New England seems to have grown. It is not yet clear if the Canadian population is simply growing and moving south, or if there are other, environmental factors at work.

Highly gregarious, gray seals are often found in large groups hauled out on quiet sand or rock beaches for rest and breeding. Females in this area, such as Monomoy Island in Nantucket Sound, give birth to one, white-coated pup from late December to mid February. The pup is nursed intensively for about 15 to 20 days on an increasingly fatty milk. Females come into estrus about 2 weeks after weaning their pups. Males are highly competitive over access to groups of females on shore. After fertilization, the embryo stops development and “rests” for 3 to 4 months before development resumes (delayed implantation).

Harbor Seals Brace Cove Gloucester