The 7 Types of Seals & Sea Lions Found in Quebec!
What kinds of seals and sea lions can you find in Quebec?
Seals and sea lions 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 and sea lions in Quebec. I’ve also included RANGE MAPS and fun facts about each species. Plus, keep reading to the end for the differences between Seals and Sea Lions!
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.
Here are 7 Types of Seals and Sea Lions Found in Quebec!
#1. Ringed Seal
- Phoca (pusa) hispida
- 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 Quebec.
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
- 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 Quebec, observe from a distance and leave them be.
#3. Gray Seal
- Halichoerus grypus
- 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!
#4. Harp Seal
- Pagophilus groenlandicus
- Adults are 5-6 feet (1.7-1.8 meters) long and weigh 260-300 lbs (91-136 kilograms).
- Their coats are light gray with a black face mask and a large black patch on their backs. Pups are pure white.
Harp Seals are found in shallower water than most other seals in Quebec.
This species eats many different types of small fish and invertebrates. During seasonal migration, it’s common to see large groups of Harp Seals travel away from pack ice and into the open ocean. Then, when the breeding season starts, they return to colder northern waters.
Young Harp Seal pups stay on the ice for up to six weeks after they’re weaned. During this time, they aren’t nursed by their mothers and can lose up to half their body weight!
In addition to being abandoned by their mothers, Harp Seal pups face another challenge as they grow. Since they’re relatively helpless during this stage, they are often preyed on by polar bears. Up to 30% of Harp Seal pups are killed by polar bears before they learn to swim.
#5. Hooded Seal
- Cystophora cristata
- Adults are 6.6-8.5 feet (2-2.6 meters) long and weigh 320-776 lbs (145-352 kilograms).
- Their coats are silver-gray with irregular, darker patches all over.
Hooded Seals are the most bizarre-looking seals in Quebec!
Males of this species have TWO large, inflatable pouches on their faces. The first pouch, which is sometimes called the “hood,” sits above the eyes. It can be inflated and used to make sounds to mark territory and help the seal navigate while swimming.
The second pouch is made of nasal tissue, and it’s inflated through the nostril. This pouch looks like a large, pinkish-red balloon bobbing up and down from the seal’s nose! It’s used in mating displays to catch the attention of females and to show dominance to other males. When one or both of the pouches are inflated, this seal looks like something from a sci-fi movie!
Aside from their physical differences, Hooded Seals are much more aggressive and territorial than other species. In addition, they’re solitary except during the mating season.
#6. Bearded Seal
- Erignathus barbatus
- 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!
- Odobenus rosmarus
- Adults are 7-12 feet (3-4 meters) long and weigh 800-2,000 lbs (363-907 kilograms).
- The coloring of the fur is shades of brown. The skin around the head and neck typically has a pinkish cast, especially in males.
Walruses spend nearly their entire lives in the water. These truly unique creatures are some of the most interesting on the planet! They’re easily recognizable by their long tusks, short, sensitive whiskers, and broad bodies.
Walruses’ bodies are adapted incredibly well for life in the cold waters of the far north. Their hides are up to an inch thick and combine with their layer of blubber to keep this species well-insulated. Their whiskers are used to skim the sea floor and find food like snails, clams, and sea cucumbers. They also occasionally eat seabirds!
Walruses are extremely social, and the strongest bond between individuals is between mothers and their calves. They stay together for about two years and female Walruses are known to be dangerously aggressive if their calves are threatened.
Do YOU know the difference between SEALS and SEA LIONS in Quebec?
Although they’re similar, seals and sea lions have a few key differences that can help you tell them apart.
#1. Seals have ear holes but no external flaps, whereas sea lions and fur seals have small folds of skin and fur over their ears.
#2. They move differently.
Sea Lions can rotate their back flippers, using all four limbs to “walk” across the sand. In comparison, seals scoot over land with their front flippers, or use an “inchworm” type movement to get around. Either way, they’re definitely more graceful in the water. 🙂
#3. Sea Lions are much more vocal.
They use a variety of barks, yips and calls to communicate. Seals tend to only bark or scream when in danger.
#4. Seals rarely congregate, instead hunting solo and only gathering to mate.
Sea Lions, on the other hand, gather in huge groups called rafts to socialize. You can even spot them on piers, beaches, and other places with a human presence!
#5. Sea Lions come ashore much more often.
Seals only come to land to breed and raise their young. Sea Lions spend time on beaches and rock outcroppings to socialize, sunbathe, feed, and play as well as for mating.
Do you want to learn more about other MAMMALS in Quebec? Check out these other field guides!
Which seals and sea lions have you seen in Quebec?
Let us know in the comments!