As one of the keystone species in marine ecosystems, seals help maintain a balance in the food web. Seals consume fish, squid, and crustaceans. Seals are also important food sources for larger predators like orcas, polar bears, and sharks. Through their movements, seals also help to cycle nutrients through the water column, and transfer them from sea to shore.
Phoca vitulina (harbor seal), Halichoerus grypus (grey seal), and Pagophilus groenlandicus (harp seal) are among 33 species of seal
Ranges from least concerned to critically endangered
Where do seals live?
Seals can be found on every continent
Bays, sandy coastlines, and harbors in temperate coastal habitats; cold water and ice of the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans; tropical climates
Historically, exploitation has been one of the world’s largest threats to seals. In the US, seals were not fully protected federally until 1972, and seal populations were depleted by practices such as bounties. Canada’s commercial seal hunt has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of seals
Entanglement in fishing gear is another major threat to seals. Unable to swim, hunt, and move freely, entangled seals suffer great pain and often die. Habitat loss due to climate change and coastal development is an increasingly growing threat to seals around the world.
IFAW was founded on the mission of ending the commercial seal hunt in Canada. We travelled to the ice to observe and document the annual slaughter, bringing international media, politicians, and veterinary experts with us to observe the cruelty first-hand. Since then, our work has helped bring about monumental changes like the 2009 EU ban on seal products. We continue to urge the Government of Canada to adopt sustainable alternatives to the commercial seal hunt – ones that can support the economy and local communities while protecting seals.
On Cape Cod, our Marine Mammal Rescue & Research team is revolutionising the way we rescue seals. One method, developed in partnership with The Marine Mammal Center in California, involves using a sedative dart with a specialised tracker embedded, which enables our team to capture, disentangle, and treat seals. We are able to minimise the suffering of seals, release them back to the ocean, and share our expertise with marine mammal rescue networks around the world. We also promote coexistence with seals by working with communities to ensure that beachgoers can appreciate the animals at a safe and healthy distance minimising additional human impacts.
IFAW has a rich, 50-year history of advocating, rescuing, and protecting seals—but there is always more we can do.
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