Distribution and Habitat
The bearded seal is circumpolar in its distribution in arctic and subarctic waters. There are two recognised subspecies of bearded seal. The E. barbatus barbatus subspecies is found in the western Laptev Sea, Barents Sea and north Atlantic Ocean as far south as the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the western Atlantic and Iceland / Norway in the eastern Atlantic. The E. barbatus nauticus subspecies inhabits the remainder of the Arctic Ocean, as well as the Bering and Okhotsk Seas, being found as far south as Hokkaido.
Bearded seals are solitary and inhabit areas of relatively shallow water and moving ice. If ice is not available they will haul out on land and gravel beaches. Bearded seals have a large, body with a disproportionately small head and square fore flippers. Both males and females are about 2.1-2.5 cm in length, and weigh about 200-360 kg. The coat varies from silver, blue-grey to chocolate brown above, with white or cream coloured patches. Males reach sexual maturity between 6 and 7 years, females between 3 and 6. Pups are born on pack ice from mid-March to mid-May, and weigh about 33 kg at birth, and are about 1.3m long. They have a brown or greyish lanugo with white patches on the face, and are able to enter the water within hours. Nursing lasts for 18-24 days. The males "sing" underwater to attract females or to defend underwater territories. Diet varies with location and age of the animal, and includes crabs, shrimps, clams, whelks, polychaetes, squit, octopuses, and a variety of fish, including Arctic and sasffron cod, flounders, and sculpins.
Abundance estimates are incomplete; estimates from the early 1980s suggest 450,000 animals in the Pacific region.
Threats to the Species
SourcesReijnders, P. et al. 1993. Seals, Fur Seals, Sea Lions, and Walrus. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN Seal Specialist Group. Gland, Switzerland. 87pp.