Sea Hare or Bearded Seal (Erignathus barbatus)
Reference work entry
Sea Hare or Bearded Seal (Erignathus barbatus) – one of the largest species of the seal family (Phocinae) and the largest species in the fauna of Russia. The Atlantic subspecies inhabit the western part of the Laptev Sea. The body length is up to 250 cm. The total mass of adults, depending on the nutritional status of summer–autumn, is usually up to 265 kg; in winter it reaches 300 kg and sometimes even more. The size of males and females is almost identical. The color of hair is solid brownish gray. S. H. is mainly spread in the marginal seas of the Arctic Ocean and in the northern parts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and occasionally appears in the central parts of the Arctic Ocean. S. H. prefers shallow coastal areas, especially those where the shore is rugged by bays and gulfs, with a group of islands. It intentionally avoids open deep sea areas where the depth is greater than 50–70 m, which usually does not occur there. Such dislocation is due to the fact that S. H. feeds mainly on benthic and demersal animals: lamellibranchiates, bivalves and gastropods, shrimps, and crabs. Sometimes eats Boreogadus saida (polar cod). S. H. is relatively a sedentary species. So, with the formation of heavy continuous fast ice, most of S. H. go farther out to sea and to the zone of drifting ice. Coastal rookeries occur around the end of October – early November, when, with the appearance of ice, seals move onto them and keep themselves singly or in groups of 2–3 animals. Later, they occur on the ice more often and, at the same time, there could be a few dozen species on ice floes. Some individuals remain in the coastal strip even in winter, making creepholes in ice through which they emerge from the water. Sometimes creepholes are heavily snowed in, and the animals build a lodge in them. Spring accumulations of S. Hs on ice are not of mass, concentrated events; the animals are dispersed on ice floes, or ashore. They haul out onto fast ice or pack ice at this time to mate, molt, and raise young. S. Hs are slow, burly animals and cannot move quickly on ice. Puppies are born in March–May. The body length of a newborn is about 120 cm. Females reach puberty at the age of 4–6 years, and males at 5–7 years. S. Hs are of significant commercial value. It is hunted by the local population and special seal-hunting ships. For industrial purposes subcutaneous fat (40–100 kg from each animal) and skin-like rawhide are used. Sometimes meat is also used (mainly for feeding fur animals).
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