Harbor seals are also known as “hair seals” by some locals, and they are what brought the first white settlers to Alaska in the 1700s. Russians established a massive fur trade based on the pelts of harbor seals and nearly wiped them out completely, but since the Marine Mammal Protection Act, their numbers have rebounded and are now estimated at between 200,000-300,000. Harbor seals are mammals and therefore breathe air, but they are well adapted to life in the ocean. They can dive 600 feet below the surface and hold their breath for up to 20 minutes. Harbor seals’ diet would make most land-dwelling humans jealous. They spend their lives in Alaska feasting on walleye, pollock, Pacific cod, capelin, eulachon, Pacific herring, salmon, octopus and squid.
Where to find them:
Harbor seals are found along the coast from the Inside Passage all the way through the Gulf of Alaska and out to the Aleutian Islands. Though they tend to stick to salt water, they can head inland via coastal rivers, and scientists believe that in the case of Lake Iliamna, harbor seals live there all year long.
When to come:
Harbor seals can be seen year-round in coastal areas.