The Ice Lover: Biology of the Harp Seal (Phoca groenlandica)

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Science  19 Feb 1982:
Vol. 215, Issue 4535, pp. 928-933
DOI: 10.1126/science.215.4535.928


The number of harp seals, Phoca groenlandica (Eodeben 1777) may now range from 2.25 million to 3 million. The total population is divided among three separate breeding stocks in the White Sea, the Greenland Sea, and the Northwest Atlantic. The continued exploitation of the Northwest Atlantic stock has caused controversy, primarily because of public concern for the fate of the newborn "whitecoat." The harp seal's life-cycle is marked by a progression from on-ice birth to in-water mating and subsequent on-ice molt. An extensive migration follows, taking these animals northward to high Arctic summering grounds and southward in an autumnal return migration to the breeding grounds. Harp seals are efficient divers and possess well-developed microsensory perceptions associated with anatomical adaptation to their environment. The relation between our understanding of the basic biology of the species and the confrontation that occurs between these mammals and man is considered with respect to our technological invasion of the North, the regulated commercial kill, and the slow movement toward multispecies management. Sound decisions regarding the exploitation of this species can only be made with a knowledge of its biology.

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