Life Stages of the 

Harp Seal

Harp seals pass through a series of stages during their lifetime, each distinguished by a particular set of identifiable characteristics.

Yellowcoat:  Approximately 1 day

For the first day or two of life, the newborn harp seal pup is a yellowish colour, the result of staining by amniotic fluid while in the womb. Yellowcoats are quite thin with a distinct head and neck, since they do not yet have the thick layer of insulating blubber found in older seal pups.

Thin WhitecoatApproximately 4 days

After two or three days, the pups lose their yellow colouration - it is either bleached by the sun or washed off by rain - and turn a pristine white. Feeding regularly on mothers milk, these thin whitecoats gain weight quickly, and grow stronger and more coordinated in their movements.

Fat WhitecoatApproximately 7 days

Thanks to the high energy content of mothers milk (which contains more than 50% fat by the end of nursing), pups do not stay thin for long. In about a week, most pups have gained close to 14 kg (30 lbs). Nursing lasts for about 12 days and, during this time, the pups will grow about 2.2 kg (5 lbs) a day. More than half of this weight gain is stored as blubber.

GreycoatApproximately 12 days

By the end of nursing, most pups weigh 36 kg (80 lbs) or more. The dark spots of the developing juvenile coat can be seen growing underneath the longer white neonatal pelt. Left to fend for itself, the pup continues to call for its mother for a few days, then becomes quiet and sedentary.

Ragged Jacket:  Approximately 21 days

Shortly after weaning, the pups white coat becomes loose and begins to fall out, revealing the short, dark spotted juvenile coat underneath. Their name is derived from the coats "raggedy" appearance. This stage lasts a week or more. Once a seal reaches this stage, it may be legally killed during the commercial hunt.

Beater:  Approximately 25 days to 1 year
Once the white coat is completely moulted, exposing the short, black spotted, silvery grey pelt underneath, the animal is called a beater. This name refers to the poorly developed swimming skills of these young seals as they beat the surface of the water during their first attempts at swimming and diving.

Bedlamer:  Approximately 13 months - 4 years

Around 13-14 months, the beater pelt is moulted and replaced by a similar spotted pelt, and the animals are renamed bedlamers. The name comes from the French "bÍte de la mer", which means "beast of the sea".


Spotted Harp:  Approximately 4+ years
Adult-sized animals that have a combination of the spotted bedlamer pelt and the distinct coat of the adult seal are called spotted harps. The transition from the bedlamer pelt to that of the adult begins with the onset of sexual maturity. While most male harp seals develop the black wish-bone marking abruptly, females may take many years. In fact, some female seals never lose all their spots or develop a complete "harp".

Old Harp:  Approximately 5+ years

The coat of a mature harp seal is very distinctive with the characteristic "harp" marking on the back. The face is also black, while the remainder of the coat is silvery grey with virtually no spots. Animals with this coat can be anywhere from 5 to 30 years of age, and are approximately 1.7 m (5.6 ft) long, and weigh 130 kg (286 lbs) or more.

Females can give birth to their first pups shortly after their fifth birthday, but males do not usually breed until they are 6 or 7 years old.