Our Seals

The bearded seal (Erignatus barbatus) is an Arctic species that has Svalbard as its natural habitat.

The bearded seals came to Polaria when they were five weeks old. The two females Bella and Mai San arrived in summer 2003. Polaria has the only group of bearded seals in captivity in the world. The bearded seal was chosen because of its quiet nature and non-aggressive disposition. In addition to the bearded seals, we also have two harbour seals, Loffen and Lyra. They came to Polaria in September 2010 from the Lofoten aquarium in Kabelvåg.
At Polaria we train our seals at the same time as they are fed. They are not trained to perform or make any kind of "seal show", but to stimulate them mentally. Animals in captivity that are trained live a much better life than those that are untrained. Mainly we train the seals to co-operate with veterinary examinations, for example to come out of the water and to open their mouths. These exercises make it possible for our keepers and veterinary staff to examine the seals daily and to satisfy ourselves that they are healthy and in generally good shape. When we train the seals, we use the same methods that are used to train animals that take part in Walt Disney's films - we reward the animals when they do as we want them to do, and ignore them if they do not. This is called positive reinforcement.

The bearded seal lives in the circumpolar regions in relatively shallow waters with ice floes, and has two natural enemies. The most threatening of these is the polar bear; however walruses have been known to take bearded seals. It lives on benthonic (bottom-living) organisms, fish, crustaceans and mussels. The bearded seal becomes sexually mature at 5 years old. At this age the seal is up to 2.6 metres long and has an average weight of 270 kg for both sexes. The female is the heaviest as an adult and can reach 420 kg. They mate in May, as soon as they have given birth and have a gestation period of 10.5 to 11 months. This means that the development of the embryo is "suspended" for 1- 1.5 months after mating occurs. The bearded seal normally gives birth to one single young, every other year.

The young are born around the 1st of May and weigh 35-40 kg, and are approximately 85 cm in length. Unlike other species of seal, the bearded seal young have lost their "baby fur" as foetuses, and have fur like adults when born. They can therefore live in the water straight away after birth. The young suckle for a period of three weeks. At the same time they are very active in the water and on land, and the transition to solid food is gradual. Seal milk is almost like a high-energy drink and contains about 50% fat. Considering that the young drink around 8 litres of milk per day, it is not surprising that they gain weight at a rate of up to 4 kilos per day! Their weight is almost doubled during the first 3-4 weeks. At the same time the mother can lose up to 100-120 kg in body weight.

Harbour seals:

Harbour seals are a midsized phocid seal. They are highly variable in colour, ranging from animals that are silver grey with dark spots to dark grey, black or brown animals that have light spots or rings. The global population size is probably close to half a million animals. In Svalbard, the population is comprised of about 1,000 individuals. Harbour seals are a coastal seal species that aggregates in small groups on rocky outcrops, beaches or inter-tidal areas.
Harbour seals are highly variable in colour, ranging from animals that are silver grey with dark spots to dark grey, black or brown animals that have light spots or rings. They are a midsized phocid seal that varies in size across the range of the species.

In Svalbard adult males are an average of 1.5 metres long and weigh on average 104 kg, while females are somewhat smaller in both length (1.4 m) and weight (83 kg). Harbour seal pups are born already having moulted their grey foetal coat, so they have a smooth pelt that is much like the adult pattern at birth. Pups weigh 10-12 kg and are 80-100 cm long at birth. Harbour seals can live for 30-35 years.
Large sharks and killer whales are the primary predators of harbour seals; terrestrial predators such as bears, wolves and eagles may take pups in some parts of the harbour seal’s range. In Svalbard, Greenland sharks and walrus are likely the major predators. Polar bears are not common on Prins Karls Forland, where most of the harbour seals in Svalbard are found.