Please note: It is rare to see bearded seals on our Churchill polar bear adventures, except potentially by helicopter. A scenic helicopter flight is included on our Ultimate Churchill Adventure and Churchill Arctic Family Adventure, and available as an optional excursion on all other polar bear adventures.
The bearded seal is a primary food source for polar bears and for the Inuit who live along the Arctic coast. Holding a place of esteem in Inuit culture, the native name for the seal is ugyuk
, and its skin is used to cover the traditional open wooden-frame boat known as an umiak
. The bearded seal gets its generic name, Erignathus barbatus, from Greek and Latin words that refer to its heavy jaw. In addition, the seal’s name refers to its most characteristic feature: conspicuous and abundant whiskers.
Entirely gray, with a darker back and dappled in tiny, dark spots, bearded seals are big animals; males and females measure more than 7 feet long and weigh approximately 570 pounds. As their name indicates, bearded seals have elongated whiskers covering their chin and nose. Bearded seals share some characteristics with monk seals. Most seals have beaded whiskers, but both bearded and monk seals have smooth whiskers. And, while other seals have two nipples, bearded and monk seals both have four.
HABITAT & FEEDING HABITS
Bearded seals are found in many of the same circumpolar regions as ringed seals, primarily inhabiting shallow waters in the Arctic and subarctic. They also live along the islands and coasts of Europe, Asia and
America. It is estimated that there are 500,000 to 1 million bearded seals on the planet.
Bearded seals eat a variety of small prey, including bottom-dwelling mollusks, crustaceans, clams, sea cucumbers, squid and
Newborn seal pups have fine gray-brown hairs with dabbles of white on the head and back. From mid-March to early May, pups are born on the thick pack ice. A mother’s lactation period lasts between 12 and 18 days.
Photo Credit: Ansgar Walk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons