Gray seals are found in temperate and subarctic waters on both sides of the North Atlantic Ocean, as well as in the Baltic Sea.
Gray seals prefer remote coastal areas with islands or reefs. Beaches they inhabit may be rocky, sandy or icy.
Nature: 25 to 35 years; oldest known female was 46
Managed environments: 35 years on average
Female gray seals live longer than males in the wild.
SIZE AND APPEARANCE
Length: 6.5 to 10 ft.
Weight: 550 to 880 lbs.
Gray seals are known as true seals, meaning they do not have ear flaps and they do not have a dense coat of underfur. They can be distinguished from harbor seals by their longer noses, wider set nostrils and size — they’re approximately twice as large as harbor seals.
Male gray seals are both larger and darker than females, with dark gray coats of fur and light gray spots or patches. Female gray seals have silver-gray fur with dark spots and smaller noses.
In the wild: Fish, crustaceans, squid, octopuses and sometimes even seabirds.
At the Zoo: Mostly fish, with squid being a treat!
Females reach sexual maturity at 3 – 5 years old, with males reaching maturity between 4 – 6 years. However, most males do not obtain their own territory for breeding until they are 8 – 10 years old.
Mating takes place on land, ice or in the water. During breeding season, seals may refrain from eating and instead rely on their blubber reserves for energy. After a gestation of 11 months on average, female gray seals will give birth to pups on land in locations known as rookeries. Pups are usually born in winter and weigh between 30 – 35 lbs at birth.
Mothers can identify pups by their scent and will stay close to them on the shore for nursing and protection. At birth, pups will be covered in lanugo: a special coat of soft, white fur that helps them stay warm by absorbing sunlight and trapping heat. After about a month, pups are weaned and they will shed their lanugo (a process known as molting) to assume their adult coloration. Their new fur will be waterproof and it is at this age that they will begin to swim. They will have gained around 100 lbs. by this point and will leave the rookery to live on their own.
POINTS OF INTEREST
- Seals have good senses to help them hunt.
- Their eyesight is excellent because of the time they spend underwater.
- Gray seals can sleep underwater for up to 30 minutes at a time.
- The Louisville Zoo has a rich history with this species. Eight seal pups have been born at the Zoo and when twin seal pups were born in 1979, they were the first twins to be documented in a managed system like a Zoo.