4 Types of Seals Found in Ontario! (2024)

What kinds of seals can you find in Ontario?

Types of seals and sea lions in Ontario

Seals are sometimes called “ocean puppies,” and it’s easy to see why! Their playful, energetic displays (not to mention their barking) make them seem like man’s best friend, but with flippers. 🙂

Below, you will find pictures and descriptions of the types of seals in Ontario. I’ve also included RANGE MAPS and fun facts about each species.

Although there are tons of interesting things about pinnipeds, I kept each description brief so I could cover all the species. So, you may want to consider purchasing the book below if you want more information or need help with additional identification.

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4 Types of Seals Found in Ontario!

#1. Ringed Seal

  • Phoca (pusa) hispida

seals and sea lions in Ontario

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 4-4.5 feet (1.2-1.3 meters) long and weigh 110-150 lbs (50-68 kilograms).
  • Their bellies are pale gray, and the backs are dark gray to black with irregular light gray rings.

This species is the smallest seal in Ontario.

Ringed Seals inhabit ice-covered seas and even some freshwater lakes! They prefer ice-covered water and have a unique adaptation to this habitat. The claws on their front flippers are incredibly strong, and they use them to dig and maintain breathing holes in the ice over the water they hunt in. The ice can be as thick as 1.8 meters in some places!

Their smaller size and large population make Ringed Seals a target for polar bears. In fact, Ringed Seals are Polar Bears’ primary food source. To protect themselves, Ringed Seals dig into snowdrifts to create a shelter too small for a polar bear to enter.

#2. Harbor Seal

  • Phoca vitulina

Ontario seals and sea lions

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 5-6 feet (1.5-1.8 meters) long and weigh 180-285 lbs (81-130 kilograms).
  • They are mostly white, with mottled gray-black markings on their backs.

Harbor Seals spend most of their time hunting fish, shellfish, and crustaceans at sea. However, they come ashore to rest on beaches, reefs, and glacial ice drifts.

Unlike some other seal species, Harbor Seals spend time in groups while on land, resting in packs to avoid predators. These marine mammals embody the “cuteness” of seals, with their cat-like noses and wide, deep eyes.

Unfortunately, this often leads humans to feed or disturb them for a chance to get up close. Feeding Harbor Seals or any other wild marine mammal is detrimental because it can cause issues with aggression, territory disputes, and displacement.

If you find a group of Harbor Seals in Ontario, observe from a distance and leave them be.

#3. Gray Seal

  • Halichoerus grypus

Species of seals and sea lions in Ontario

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 7.5-10 feet (2.3-3 meters) long and weigh 550-880 lbs (249-400 kilograms).
  • Their coats are light gray with black mottling and some lighter patches.

Look for Gray Seals on ice floes or sandy beaches in the North Atlantic. They gather in large groups during the breeding season.

Interestingly, they don’t eat while breeding and raising their young! Instead, they live off of fat stores accumulated during the non-breeding season. Gray Seal pups vocalize almost constantly to keep in contact with their mothers, and observers have said they sound similar to human babies.

Outside the breeding season, they spend most of their time looking for food. Their superb vision and hearing make them exceptional hunters. Although their diet mostly consists of fish and crustaceans, they occasionally catch and eat seabirds!

YouTube video

#4. Bearded Seal

  • Erignathus barbatus

Types of seals and sea lions in Ontario

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 7-8 feet (21.-2.4 meters) long and weigh 575-800 lbs (261-363 kilograms).
  • Their coats are gray-brown and lack a pattern or markings.

The Bearded Seal looks like a small Walrus with no tusks. Its long, coarse whiskers hang below its jaw like a beard, which is where its common name came from. These sensitive whiskers are used to find food on the ocean floor by touch. Typical food sources are shrimp, crabs, and fish.

Because of their feeding habits, Bearded Seals remain in relatively shallow water, no deeper than 650 feet (198 meters). This species is one of the most vocal seals, and they produce elaborate songs for mating and territory displays. Their calls can be heard enormous distances, up to twenty kilometers across the open ocean!

Do you want to learn more about other MAMMALS in Ontario? Check out these other field guides!

Which seals have you seen in Ontario?

Let us know in the comments!

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