But harp seals are actually widely distributed across the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, ranging from northern Russia to Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. They are commonly separated into three populations based on where they breed: the White Sea off Russia, the West Ice off Greenland, and in the Northwest Atlantic off Canada.
The Northwest Atlantic population is the largest and most intensively studied. It is also the most controversial, due to the commercial seal hunt which occurs annually in Canada and Greenland. The hunt for Northwest Atlantic harp seals is the largest commercial hunt of a marine mammal anywhere in the world.
In the past decade there has also been an increased interest in harp seals as predators of commercially important fish, such as the Atlantic cod. Ever since the Northwest Atlantic cod fishery collapsed in the late 1980s - early 1990s, harp seals have been taking much of the blame, first being held responsible for the collapse of the fishery, and currently being accused of preventing the recovery of the cod stocks.
Click on the buttons at right for an introduction to harp seals, the commercial harp seal hunt off eastern Canada and west Greenland, and the interactions between harp seals and fisheries in the Northwest Atlantic.