|What Do Harp Seals Eat?|
The Northwest Atlantic harp seal (Phoca groenlandica) is perceived to compete with commercial fisheries for important species such as Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua). In order to understand such presumed interactions, we must first determine what, and how much, harp seals eat. Traditionally, the diet of harp seals has been described by examining the contents of their stomachs.
Since 1941, the stomach contents of Northwest Atlantic harp seals have been recorded in 23 reports as well as in several reviews and anecdotal accounts. Stomachs from most age categories have been collected intermittently throughout their annual range, extending from Arctic waters in the summer to the Gulf of St. Lawrence during the winter (see map below). A total of 12,746 harp seal stomachs have been analyzed. Of these, 69.7% contained prey items, including at least 67 species of fish and 70 species of invertebrates.
Clearly, harp seals eat a wide range of species. Their diet also varies with age, season, location and year.
During the northern (spring) migration, harp seals feed along the Labrador coast on a variety of species, including euphausiids, various codfishes, capelin and shrimp, while in the Gulf migrating seals feed less frequently, primarily on capelin and herring.
Atlantic cod, including the northern cod stock [Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization Divisions 2J3KL (see map)], is a minor component of the annual harp seal diet.