Who can resist sitting with Harbor Seals for a spell, and just watching them? There is something special about these shy marine mammals that draws me in to just sit and photograph them for hours. Maybe it is their comical facial expressions, or perhaps the way they imitate an inchworm as they make their way across the beach, towards the ocean. Whatever the reason, I keep going back for more, and the more I photograph them, the more I am intrigued by them. This is also true while I am scuba diving. I never get tired of diving in the California Kelp forest only to be greeted by a Harbor Seal gliding on by. Their gracefulness and curiosity always stop me in my tracks as I observe them dodging in and out of the kelp chasing down their next meal.
Harbor Seals are one of the natures true seals as they do not have an ear flap like the California Sea Lions, but rather just an ear canal. Also, unlike the California Sea Lions that love to pile up on each other while hauled out of the water, Harbor Seals are solitary marine mammals, and it is quite comical to watch them bat their front flippers at each other if they get too close to one another while resting on the beach. There may be a small colony of Harbor Seals hauled out on rocks and on the beach up and down the coast, however, they always allow space around them from the other Harbor Seals nearby.
These little seals are not only great swimmers but hunters as well, forging on a variety of fish; including, rockfish, herring, flounder, salmon, hake, and sand lance. A harbor seal's diet varies seasonally and regionally and often is subject to local prey availability.
Harbor Seal Fun Facts
- Seals share a common ancestor with dogs and bears and have upper and lower arms and legs concealed within their skin. Only their hands and feet extend outside the body envelope.
- Seals have large eyes to see in dark, deep water. They have long necks, which they can shoot out quickly to catch fish while swimming.
- Seals can live in fresh or saltwater; they usually spend their entire lives in an area of about five miles.
- Baby seals are born weighing about 25 pounds. They double their weight in the first month; their mother’s milk is 40 percent fat. A mother leaves its pup after the first month to finish growing and fend for itself. Mothers do not teach pups to hunt; they learn on their own.
- Seals dive for three minutes at a time typically, but they can stay underwater as long as 30 minutes and dive as deep as 600 feet.
- Unlike humans, harbor seals breathe out before diving. They use oxygen already in their blood and muscles while under water, and their heartbeat slows from about 100 beats per minute to 10.
- In one breath a seal can exchange 90% of the air in its lungs. Humans can only change 20% of our air per breath.
- A seal’s whiskers help it hunt and navigate by sensing pressure waves from fish and underwater objects.
- The lifespan of harbor seals is different between males and females. Female harbor seals have a life expectancy averaging 30-35 years. Males on the other hand only live on average 20-25 years.
- Adult male harbor sals weigh between 120 and 300 pounds and are between 5 and 6 feet long. Adult females are slightly smaller than their male counterparts weighing between 100 and 190 pounds and averaging between 4 and 5 feet long.
- Their gestation period is 9 months.
- Harbor seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in the United States but are still hunted in some parts of the world
- Harbor Seals are generally non-migratory and occur on both the U.S east and west coasts.
One thing I have learned about our oceans and the animals that live in or near it, is all the animals have a place in the ecosystem, and without them, the ocean's ecosystem would eventually collapse. I photograph these Marine Mammals not only because they are fun, curious animals, but also to spread the word of why they are so important to our oceans. Without Harbor Seals or pinnipeds, our marine ecosystem would eventually collapse. I feel it is my duty to photograph and let my photographs tell the story of these amazing animals.
How I got this Shot
One of the things I have learned that is very important while photographing Harbor Seals is to be quick with making changes to your settings and to learn my camera. They may be quiet one moment, showing off their cuteness, but then all of a sudden some action may break out in a blink of an eye. I can't tell you how many times I missed a really unique shot because I was not quick enough. What also helps out along these lines is to learn their behavior, this will really help you anticipate some of those cool action shots. Take some time to put the camera down for a while, and just observe, and enjoy them without looking through your viewfinder. When photographing animals such as Harbor Seals, you really want to focus on their eyes. Their eyes are where they carry their most expressiveness and can tell you a lot about what mood they are in, which can make for some really fun photos. I don't normally use a tripod while photographing Harbor Seals. I want to get as close to their level on the sand or rocks as possible, and not be shooting down on them. That being said, my Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Telephoto Zoom Lens that I photograph this photo with has an Image Stabilization feature to help compensate for handheld camera shake that I may have.
- DSLR Camera (I use Canon 70D)
- 70-300mm IS (can also use the 100-400mm lens)
- Lens Hood
Conditions For This Photo
- Time Of Day: 8:30am
- Month: March
- Weather: Slightly Overcast
Camera Settings For This Photo
- Exposure: 1/400 sec at f/5.6
- Focal Length: 300mm
- ISO: 400
- Exposure Program: Shutter Priority (TV)
Number one rule is to obey the posted signs, and Never, get too close to the Harbor Seals to get a shot. If they raise their heads and start looking nervous because they sense, or see you, you are too close, and you may flush the beach, which means they all go racing back into the water. This could be harmful especially during the pupping season when the pups need to be out of the water for a while to warm up, not to mention mom and pup could get separated. Harbor Seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA)
When it comes down to it, just have fun, don't be afraid to try new things, and just keep shooting.