Visitors to Southeast Alaska from coastal cities across the Northern Hemisphere may recognize the round head, big dark eyes and spotted gray coat of the harbor seal. Also known as common seals or hair seals, these marine mammals inhabit northern coastal waters. Harbor seals are by far the most abundant and often-seen seal in the Inside Passage, although fur seals are occasionally seen on the Outer Coast.
Harbor seals feed on fish, clams, mussels, and crustaceans such as shrimp. They are hunted and preyed upon by sharks and by transient killer whales. In May and June they tend to move to sheltered waterways such as Tracy Arm, LeConte Bay and upper Glacier Bay, where females give birth to a single pup. Harbor seals favor nearshore water and will also swim up rivers. They tend to live and have pups in the same areas where they are born, although some juvenile seals will explore areas 40 or 50 miles distant.
What to look for: Harbor seals are most often seen cruising silently and effortlessly, their round head showing just above the water. They are curious but cautious. They are very quiet and rarely vocalize. They tend to be solitary in water but concentrations of food can draw a number of seals to an area. Seals will sometimes haul out in groups on sandbars, beaches or ice floes near glaciers. Ungainly on land, they look like fat sausages when they are at rest.