Marine Mammals - Sounds Wild
Songs of the Sea - Bearded Seals


Download Episode: Songs of the Sea - Bearded Seals (MP3 file 1,440 kB)


Bearded seals

During the spring, you can hear some strange sounds in the Arctic. One of the strangest is the mating song of the beard seal. These calls are produced underwater, and may be heard both above and below the surface.

Male bearded seals vocalize during the spring breeding season using four types of calls: trills, ascents, sweeps, and moans. Each male has a unique call and males return to a specific breeding territory each year for mating. Scars on the males indicate that fighting may be involved in defending territories as well. Eskimo hunters follow the sound of singing bearded seals to hunt them.

Bearded seals are one of four northern seal species that rely on ice for feeding, resting, and pupping; these four species are collectively called "ice seals." Bearded seals are the most important seal for coastal Alaska villages because they provide large quantities of meat, oil, and skins for boats and for warm boots, called mukluks. Bearded seals are also an important food for polar bears.

The bearded seal is the largest seal in Alaska's waters. Bearded seals can be nearly 8 feet long from the nose to the tip of the tail. They weigh up to 800 pounds in late winter and spring when they are heaviest. They have conspicuous whiskers, hence the name bearded seal.

Bearded seals mainly feed on the bottom and eat crab, shrimp, clams, and snails, and bottom fish like sculpins and flatfish.

Females can have one pup every year, but may pup less often depending upon food availability. Bearded seals are usually solitary and tend to be very wary. They rest close to a hole or crack in the ice so that a quick escape is possible.