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Ringed Seals

Phoca hispida

This very common seal is found throughout the Arctic wherever there is stable ice near land, especially in bays, but also in lakes and river openings. They are named for the many dark ringed spots that are surrounded by a silvery color on the back and sides. The underbelly is silver. These small seals resemble the larger harbor seal, reaching only 4 to 4 feet and weighing 150 - 200 pounds. The Latin name hispidus means "rough and bristly" referring to their fur. It is thought that these seals may live up to 40 years, although many survive only through their mid-twenties. Ringed seals feed mainly on polar cod and shrimp-like animals. Population estimates for ringed seal are between 3 to 6 million, which makes them the most abundant of the Arctic seals.

The young are born in lairs, or dens which the female often digs out in a snow bank. This shelter is thought to protect the pup from predators such as Arctic foxes and polar bears, as well as the bitter cold winds. The white haired babies are 26 inches long and weigh about 10 pounds. The pup remains with the mother for 6 - 8 weeks before it is weaned. During this time the pups are sought after by the native people who hunt them for their silvery pelt. During this time the pups are known as "silver jars." In late fall and winter ringed seals live under the ice by maintaining breathing holes, while younger seals stay at the edge of the ice where there is open water.

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