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Ringed Seal (Phoca hispida)

Status | Taxonomy | Species Description | Habitat | Distribution |
Population Trends | Threats | Conservation Efforts | Regulatory Overview |
Key Documents | More Info


Ringed Seal
Ringed Seal
(Phoca hispida)
Photo: NOAA

ringed seal range map
Ringed Seal Range Map
(click for larger view PDF)

proposed critical habitat for ringed seal
Proposed Critical Habitat Map
(click for larger view)

  ringed seal pup
Ringed seal pup
(Phoca hispida)
Photo: Shawn Dahle, NOAA
Polar Ecosystems Program research cruise

ESA Endangered - 1 subspecies

  1. Ladoga (Phoca hispida ladogensis)

ESA Threatened - 3 subspecies

  1. Arctic (Phoca hispida hispida)
  2. Okhotsk (Phoca hispida ochotensis)
  3. Baltic (Phoca hispida botnica)

MMPA Depleted - 4 subspecies

  1. Ladoga (Phoca hispida ladogensis)
  2. Arctic (Phoca hispida hispida)
  3. Okhotsk (Phoca hispida ochotensis)
  4. Baltic (Phoca hispida botnica)

MMPA - All ringed seals are protected under the MMPA.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Phocidae
Genus: Phoca
Species: hispida

Species Description
Weight: 110-150 lbs (50-70 kg)
Length: average 5 ft (1.5 m)
Appearance:  dark coat with silver rings on their backs and sides and a silver belly, they have a small head, short cat-like snout, claws on their foreflippers, and a plump body
Lifespan: 25-30 years
Diet: fish and invertebrates, such as mysids, shrimp, arctic cod, and herring
Behavior: solitary animals

Ringed seals are part of the "true seal" family Phocidae. The ringed seal is the smallest and most common seal in the Arctic. They have a small head, short cat-like snout, and a plump body. Their coat is dark with silver rings on their back and sides with a silver belly. Their small foreflippers have thick, strong claws that are used to maintain breathing holes through up to 6 ft (2 m) thick ice.

They grow to average lengths of 5 ft (1.5 m) with weights ranging from 110-150 lbs (50-70 kg). Ringed seals live about 25 to 30 years.

They are solitary animals and when hauled out on ice separate themselves from each other by hundreds of yards.

Females reach sexual maturity at 4 years while males do not reach maturity until 7 years old. Males are thought to be monogamous breeders. During the spring breeding season, females construct lairs within the thick ice and give birth in these structures. Females give birth to a single pup in March or April after a 9 month gestation period. Pups are weaned after one month and females usually begin mating in late April.

Ringed seals eat a wide variety of small prey that consists of 72 species of fish and invertebrates. Feeding is usually a solitary behavior and their prey of choice includes mysids, shrimp, arctic cod, and herring. While feeding, ringed seals dive to depths of 35 to 150 ft (10-45 m).

Ringed seals are harvested annually by Arctic natives for subsistence.

Ringed seals reside in arctic waters and are commonly associated with ice floes and pack ice.

Critical Habitat

We proposed critical habitat for the Arctic ringed seal in the northern Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas off of Alaska in December 2014.

The ringed seal is found in the Northern Hemisphere with a circumpolar distribution ranging from 35°N to the North Pole. There is only one recognized stock of ringed seals in U.S. waters: the Alaska stock.

Population Trends
The estimated population size for the Alaska stock of ringed seals is 249,000 animals. Currently, the population trend for this stock is unknown.


  • Climate change is potentially the most serious threat to ringed seal populations since much of their habitat is dependent upon pack ice
  • Bycatch in fishing gear, such as commercial trawls

Conservation Efforts
Ringed seals are considered Low Risk-least concern in the IUCN Red List This link is an external site. of species.

Regulatory Overview
This species is protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 as amended. In addition, 4 subspecies of ringed seals are listed under the Endangered Species Act:

  • Arctic
  • Okhotsk
  • Baltic
  • Ladoga

Key Documents
(All documents are in PDF format.)

Title Federal Register Date

Critical habitat proposed for Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas in Alaska

79 FR 73010

Final listing for 4 subspecies of ringed seals (Arctic, Okhotsk, Baltic and Ladoga) listed under the ESA 77 FR 76705 12/28/2012
Proposed listing for 4 subspecies of ringed seals (Arctic, Okhotsk, Baltic and Ladoga) proposed as threatened under the ESA 75 FR 77476 12/10/2010
Initiation of Status Review 73 FR 16617 03/28/2008
Stock Assessment Reports n/a various

More Information

Updated: December 10, 2014

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