Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island, Inc.

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Hooded Seal

(Cystophora cristata)

Hooded seals are a less numerous seal than the harp, but inhabit the same regions of the world. These seals feed on fish, squid, shrimp and mussels. They are large and very distinct in appearance. Both sexes have irregular black patches on a silvery background. The males which reach up to 9 feet and weigh 900 pounds, have a very unusual nasal sac which can inflate to twice the size of a football for courtship display or if angered. In addition, there is another membrane within the nostril that can inflate to a red balloon-like sac. Hence their scientific name, "bladder carrying seal with a crest." The females are rather unspectacular compared to the male. They are somewhat smaller, about 7 feet long and weighing about 670 pounds.

Pups about 3 feet long, weighing approximately 50 pounds, are born on the ice from mid-March to mid-April. Pups are born large and well developed, having shed the lanugo (birth coat) in utero. At birth their coat is a beautiful slate blue on the back and pale grey underneath, giving it the nickname "blueback." This coloring remains until molting at 14 months old when they resemble their parents' coat. The blueback pelts were extremely desirable to sealers who sold the pelts to furriers for coats. The pups stay with their mother for only 3 - 5 days before weaning, during which time they double their birth weight.

Several bluebacks come ashore on Long Island every year, often exhausted, and sick. They are rehabilitated and released back to sea. Two of these hooded seals have been outfitted with satellite transmitters which have enabled researchers to trace their movements and behavior. Both seals were tracked along the coast to Nova Scotia, Canada before the signals were lost.


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