Harp or Greenland seals (genus Pagophilus groenlandicus) are a carnivorous mammal of the family Phocidae.
The term pagophilusvient the Greek philos pagos désignant ice and the lover, in reference to the habitat of the species (Phoca groenlandica).
In the Magdalen Islands, it is also called wolf-Marinet and Norwegians call it selhund (dogfish). Fossilized remains show that this species was already present in the middle Miocene (20 million years ago) and is descended from carnivorous terrestrial mammals.
This species has three distinct populations: One that breeds in the White Sea north of the USSR; a Western European herd which breeds near Jan Mayen Island southeast of Spitsbergen in Norway; and the Northwest Atlantic stock which breeds around Newfoundland and Labrador. Some studies suggest that this stock could be genetically distinct from the first two (different size skulls and body).
The population of the Northwest Atlantic is divided into two herds: the Front which breeds on the Arctic pack ice (about 2 / 3) and the Gulf of St. Lawrence (about 1 / 3) which breeds off of the Magdalen Islands.
According to the latest official census conducted by Dr. Mike Hammill, Scientific Department of Fisheries and Oceans the herd of the northwest Atlantic was estimated at 9.8 million people in 2008. The International Union for Conservation of lists the Harp (Greenland) seal conservation status as LC (least concern) because of the high population numbers in relation to the established hunting quotas determined by the Canadian government.
Stages of development
Small yellow (0-3 days) On leaving the placenta, the newborn is a little wrinkled and his fur has a yellowish tinge will disappear after a few days.
Whitecoat (3-15 days approx.): Its fur turns pure white. As it feeds on an extremely rich in milk fat (45%) it grows rapidly and prepares to be weaned
Tanner (raggedy jacket) (15 to 25 days approx.): The white fur is easily removed and the skin can only be used leather, hence the name tanner or raggety jacket
Beater (25 days to 1 year): Moulting is complete and his hair is now short and full of silver-gray spotted with black. Since it has not yet beaten, his skin is of great quality. It is so called because he learned to swim and just, awkward, "breaststroke" water in his first attempts.
Bedlammer (1-5 years): The Greenland seals begin to breed during this period, while continuing maturity. Spots or heart-shaped harp (hence the English name of harp seal) are appearing on the gray fur.
Old Harp (over 5 years): At full maturity, black or brown hearts appear well marked on his gray fur. The term "saddle" refers to the shape of the spot which straddles the back of the adult. At this point, spot, head and tail are black, the rest rather gray steel.
Adult male is only slightly larger than the female with an average of 1.6 meters and a weight ranging from 85 kg to 190 kg depending on the time of the year. This animal lives on average about 30 years.
Greenland seals breed on the ice ad the balance of the year in the water
No doubt the unusually high temperatures of recent years and the lack of ice in the Gulf has affected the behavior of these animals However, over the centuries these seals have been successfully adapting to a wide variety of climatic changes including periods of warming.
Greenland seals are mammals particularly gregarious. Only the old males live solitary lives. Harp seals are adept at creating “ice holes” to allow them to surface and breathe and also at using natural breaks in the ice cover for the same purpose.
The southward migration begins in the fall and the herd reached the Strait of Belle Isle (between Newfoundland and Labrador) in December. The calving will take place in February / March and in April / May, and then the herds return to the northern waters.
The young eat krill, amphipods and small fish. The adult feeds mainly on fish but will eat whatever it can find when hungry including crabs, lobsters and other shellfish.
The Canadian population of about 10 million Harps each consume between 1 and 1.5 tonnes of fish and shellfish each year. In comparison the fishing fleet in Quebec takes 0.5 million tons.
Harp seals usually reach sexual maturity between 5 and 7 years of age. The female gives birth to one pup per year. The newborn weighs about 11 kg to 85 cm. It will breastfeed 4-5 times a day and groan to tell the mother that he is hungry.. After ten days of a diet rich in milk 45% fat (compared to about 4% for cow's milk), it will triple in weight to 33 kg and more than half of that weight will be the fat.
The female will remain with the young 10 to 14 days and then abandon it to mate with one or more males. It becomes fertile two weeks after parturition, in late lactation. Gestation lasts 11 1/2 months, but the development of the embryo is delayed, so that the birth takes place every year in the same period.
There is no way to be certain of the Harp seal population prior to European involvement. However, A general understanding of the predator/prey relationship and the ability of the natural habitat to provide food within the animal’s normal home range it is unlikely that the early populations would have been very much greater than the present population of about 10 million. Since population studies have been undertaken. At first the studies indicated a drop in the population in the years 1950 to 1970 when the figures showed the population dropping from about 3 million to 1.8 million animals. since then there has been a steady growth in the population to estimate 9.8 million animals in 2008. This growth has been achieved during the annual hunts managed by quotas established by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
The scientist relies on models, calculations, data collection; the experienced fisherman sees and analysis for decades a concrete situation with care because it is in his livelihood. These two players, the scientist and the fisherman, should work together, hand in hand in order to optimize the results, and policy makers should rely as much upon one than the other (if not more to the fisherman) to make effective decisions regarding the management of marine resources.