Friday, August 26, 2016

Eastern Pacific Harbor Seal - Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

The Eastern Pacific harbor seal is one of five subspecies of harbor seals. I've seen this subspecies before, along the coast of central California. They are found from central Baja California, in Mexico, to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. This is by far the most populous of the subspecies and it is increasing in numbers. However, our guide told us that those in the area we were in Alaska are declining and scientists are trying to figure out why. 

We took an eight hour boat ride out of Seward into Kenai Fjords NP. Not too far from Seward our boat skipper pulled up along some rocks at the base of a cliff and noted that harbor seals were basking on the rocks. He indicated that this was a very unusual spot for them - that they normally are found on dislodged ice near the glaciers. At first I only saw a couple of seals. Then as I looked harder, I saw more. As I got home and looked at pictures I saw even more. They really blended in and looked like rocks. 
There are seven harbor seals in this picture. I didn't even see three of them until I got home and looked at pictures. They vary in color and blend in with the rocks. I was really surprised at the color variation, something I've not noticed on other harbor seals I've seen. 
This two-toned seal looks like a giant slug covered in lichens. 
These two are what I think of as the traditional color.
My favorite sighting, by far, was near the Northwestern Glacier. The seals were using floating ice from the calving glacier as platforms. As we pulled into the bay and approached the glacier, we passed ice flow after ice flow with harbor seals on them. It stands out as one of my fond memories of our trip. As we pulled away from the glacier I was awed as I looked out over the ice flows and saw them perched everywhere. It was truly an awesome sight. Quite a distance from the glacier our skipper pointed out a chunk of ice covered with harbor seals. 
These seals are gathered together quite closely on one small chunk of ice with other ice chunks dramatically behind them. 

It is amazing that these seals are floating at all as the ice is very broken up and does not look like much of a support. 
I love their expressive faces. The one in front, to the right, reminds me of an obedient dog just waiting to be summoned. 
Two share this piece of ice, but seven or more share a piece not much larger, behind them. 
I love the wrinkles on the seal in front, sleeping. The folds of blubber make it look like a wrinkled tube sock. 
The magnificent blue ice of the Northwestern Glacier is at the back. We actually saw it calving. I count about 70 seals on the ice in front of the glacier. 
I count about 16 seals squished together on this ice flow. This was a long way from the glacier and the other seals. 

1 comment:

  1. It's amazing to me that a piece of ice can hold up that many seals. As you note, some pieces were so small that it seemed the seals were just floating in the water. I was surprised we didn't hear much barking or see much jostling for position as we have seen in other places. These guys were content to just lie down and enjoy their naps.

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