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Ringed Seal (Phoca hispida)

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

Status

ESA Endangered - 2 subspecies

  1. Ladoga (Phoca hispida ladogensis)
  2. Saimaa (Phoca hispida saimensis)

ESA Threatened - 2 subspecies

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

MMPA Depleted - 5 subspecies

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

MMPA - All ringed seals are protected under the MMPA.

 

Species Description

Weight:
110-150 lbs (50-70 kg); 240 Ibs (110 kq) for the Saimaa subspecies
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)(240 Ibs (110 kg) for the Saimaa subspecies). 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.

Habitat

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.

Distribution

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 over 300,000 animals.

Threats

Conservation Efforts

NOAA's National Marine Mammal Laboratory's Polar Ecosystems Program conducts research and monitoring on pinnipeds in the Arctic, sub-Arctic, and Antarctic marine ecosystems. The research projects focus primarily on abundance, trends, distribution, and foraging behavior of harbor, bearded, ringed, spotted, and ribbon seals in Alaska. The program supports management and assessment of population status under the MMPA and helps us better understand the factors responsible for the dynamics of populations and their roles in the ecosystem.

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:

Taxonomy

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

Key Documents

(All documents are in PDF format.)
Title Federal Register Date
Status Review n/a 12/2010
Final ESA listing for the Saimaa subspecies of the ringed seal 58 FR 40538 07/28/1993

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

79 FR 73010

12/09/2014
Final listing for 3 subspecies of ringed seals (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: June 1, 2017