The sea hare is a large mammalian pinniped animal belonging to the family of true seals. Sea hares are very hardy animals, as they live in the harsh conditions of the Far North, they can be found on the shores of the North, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. These animals got their name for their fearfulness and unusual manner of moving on land. Erignathus barbatus is a fairly common species, despite the fact that these animals are constantly hunted, since the meat, fat and skin of the animal are of great value, the species does not need special protection.
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The sea hare, or as this animal is called by the people, bearded seal is a pinniped animal belonging to the class of mammals, detachment of predators, a family of real seals. The genus Erignathus is a species of sea hare. This species was first described by the German scientist Johann Christian Polycarp in 1777. Previously, scientists considered pinnipeds as an independent order of Pinnipedia.
Video: Sea hare
Modern pinnipeds descended from animals of the order Desmostylia who lived during the period of desmostylia from the early Oligocene to the late Miocene. The family of true seals includes 19 species and 13 genera. Recently, in 2009, scientists created a description of the ancestor of the seal Puijila darwini whose fossil age is 24-20 million years. Fossils have been found on the shores of Greenland. Sea hares are very large animals. The body length of bearded seal is about 2-2.5 meters. The weight of an adult in winter can reach 360 kg.
Sea hares have a large, massive body. The head is small and round in shape. The animal has powerful jaws in order to tear the prey, but the animal's teeth are small and deteriorate quickly. The coloration of sea hares is gray-blue. The sea hare got its name for the unusual way for seals to move on land by jumping. Despite their rather large size, the animals are very shy and try to hide from prying eyes.
Appearance and features
Beard seal is a very large animal with a large elongated body, a small round head and flippers instead of legs. The size of an adult is about 2-2.5 meters in length. The weight of an adult male is up to 360 kg. Body weight varies greatly depending on the season and quality of life. Axillary girth is about 150-160 cm. Males are much larger than females. Outwardly, the animals look very awkward, although in the water they can move quite quickly and swim very gracefully.
The head of the animal is round, the eyes are small. The iris of the eyes is dark. The jaws of the animal are very strong and powerful, but the teeth are small and deteriorate quickly. Adults and old individuals have practically no teeth, because they deteriorate early and fall out. The muzzle also has rather long and thin whiskers, which are responsible for touch. The sea hare has practically no ears, this species has only internal auricles.
The hairline of sea hares is rare. The color of the adult is gray-white. The hair on the back is darker. On the front of the muzzle and around the eyes, the coat color is yellowish. The young growth of this species has a brown-brown color, which distinguishes it from other representatives of this family. Other representatives of the seals are born in a fluffy pure white fur coat. There are no differences in coloration between male and female. Old individuals have an almost white color. The front flippers are located almost at the neck, while the neck itself is practically absent. A small head immediately passes into the body. Sea hares make quite loud sounds similar to a bear's roar, especially in case of danger. During mating games, males whistle underwater.
Interesting fact: In spring, males sing songs with their loud voice underwater. For a person, this song is like a long, drawn-out whistle. Sounds are melodious and high, and can be dull. With his songs, the male lures females, and females who have stopped feeding their cubs with their milk respond to this call.
The life expectancy of males is about 25 years, females live much longer up to 30-32 years. Primary cause of death — worm infestation and tooth decay.
Where does the bearded seal live?
Sea hares live on the shores of the Arctic Ocean and in the Arctic seas, mainly in zones of shallow depths. Sea hares can be found on the shores of the Kara, White, Barents and Laptev seas, in the waters of Svalbard on the New Siberian Islands. It is also found in the west of the East Siberian Sea. There are several isolated populations of bearded seals. Thus, the Pacific and Atlantic populations are noted.
The Pacific subspecies lives in the eastern half of the East Siberian Sea. The habitat of this species extends to Cape Barrow. Lakhtaki live on the coasts of the Barents Sea and the Adygea Bay. The Atlantic subspecies lives on the coasts of northern Norway, off the coast of Greenland and on the territory of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Sometimes there are small settlements of bearded seals near the North Pole.
By their nature, sea hares are sedentary animals and do not make seasonal migrations of their own free will, however, they are often carried long distances by drifting ice floes. Sometimes sea hares can travel long distances in search of food. In the warm season, these animals gather on rookeries near the low coasts. Rookeries can number up to a hundred individuals. In winter, bearded seals move to the ice and live there in small groups of several individuals. And also some individuals remain on land in winter, they can dig holes in the snow with a loophole to the sea.
Now you know where the sea hare lives, or bearded seal. Let's see what they eat.
What does a bearded seal eat?
Sea hares are typical biological scientists. They feed on animals living at the bottom of the sea and in the bottom part at a depth of about 55-60 meters. Although these animals can descend to a depth of 145 meters. While hunting at a depth of 100 meters, it can stay up to 20 minutes, but on a voyage it is more likely to settle at shallow depths up to 60-70 meters. At such a depth, animals feel more comfortable, so these animals are practically not found in very deep seas. They can get to such places on drifting ice floes.
The diet of bearded seals includes:
- Islanian scallop;
- macoma calcarea;
- fish (smelt, herring, cod, sometimes shank, gerbil and cisco);
- crustaceans , such as snow crab, and others.
Interesting fact: During the hunt, the bearded seal can be up to 20 minutes under water at great depths.
Sea hares catch fish in the water. Crabs, shrimps and molluscs are lifted by predators from the bottom. In this animal, their wide flippers with long claws help. Sea hares are good at digging up sea soil in order to feast on crustaceans and mollusks that hide in it. Thanks to their strong jaws, sea hares can easily gnaw through the hard shells of crustaceans. If there is not enough food in the area of u200bu200btheir habitual habitat, animals can migrate long distances in search of food.
Character and lifestyle features
Sea hares are very calm and even lazy animals. They are slow, but they have nowhere to hurry. Even during the hunt, these animals have nowhere to rush, because their prey will not go anywhere from them. On the ground they are very clumsy due to the peculiarities of the body structure, but in the water they are quite graceful. Sea hares like to spend time alone, they are unsociable, but they are absolutely not aggressive. The flock is very friendly between relatives, there are never skirmishes, even during the breeding season.
Sea hares do not divide territory, and do not compete for females. The only thing that these animals do not like is crowding, so they try to be located as far as possible from their neighbor on the rookeries. These animals are very shy, and they have something to be afraid of because many predators hunt them, therefore, if it is possible to lie down closer to the water during the couch, the animals do just that in order to notice the danger quickly dive under the water and hide from persecution. In autumn, these animals move to the ice floes in small families or singly. On ice floes, seals passively migrate over long distances.
Sea hares have a very developed parental instinct. The mother takes care of the offspring for a long time; later, young seals follow their mother for a long time. But seal families do not build a pair formed exclusively for breeding for several days, after mating the pair breaks up.
Social structure and reproduction
Young females are ready to mate at the age of 4-6 years, males mature a little later and are ready to breed at the age of 5-7 years. The mating season for these animals begins in April. The beginning of the mating season can be identified by the very peculiar underwater songs of males. Males, ready to procreate, emit loud songs under water, similar to the whistle calling females. Despite their peacefulness, it is quite difficult to find a mate for a sea hare, due to the fact that sea hares are extremely unsociable. Mating takes place on the ice.
The female's pregnancy lasts about 11 months. In this case, the first few months there is a delay in implantation and development of the fetal egg. This is normal for all pinnipeds. Without a latent phase, pregnancy lasts 9 months. During puppies, females do not form clusters, but puppies and care for offspring alone.
After almost a year of pregnancy, the female gives birth to only one cub. The body size of a cub at birth is 120-130 cm. Weight is from 25 to 35 kg. The first molt occurs in the calf in the womb. Bearded seals are born with a grayish-brown color. Two weeks after birth, the cub is able to swim. The mother feeds the cub with milk during the first month, later the cubs switch to regular food. A few weeks after the end of feeding, the female is ready for the next mating.
Interesting fact: The milk that is excreted at the time of feeding is very fatty and nutritious. The fat content of milk is approximately 60%, a baby can drink up to 8 liters of mother's milk in one day.
Natural enemies of sea hares
The natural enemies of bearded seals are:
- polar bears;
- killer whales;
- parasitic helminths and tapeworms.
Polar bears are considered the most dangerous enemies of sea hares. If a bear catches a bearded seal by surprise, that animal has little to no escape route. Polar bears live in the same territory as hares, so these animals are very shy and try not to catch the eye of bears. Killer whales often attack these animals. Killer whales know that seals are on an ice floe and swim under it trying to turn it over. Sometimes they jump onto the ice floe with their whole body and it turns over. Killer whales weigh about 10 tons, and often they manage to attack bearded seals.
Infection with helminths and tapeworms is the main cause of death for bearded seals. These parasites settle in the intestines of the animal and cause indigestion. Some of the nutrients are taken away by parasites, if there are a lot of them in the body of the animal, the sea hare dies from exhaustion. But the most cunning and dangerous enemy of these huge animals is man. The skin of sea hares is very valuable, it has high strength, which allows you to create from it canoes, belts, create harnesses for deer.
And also among the peoples of the north, soles for shoes are made from the skin of sea hares. The meat of the animal is very nutritious and tasty, fat and flippers are also used for food. The inhabitants of Chukotka mainly hunt these animals. Piece hunting is allowed, it is forbidden to hunt sea hares from ships in our country. Hunting is completely prohibited in the Sea of Okhotsk.
Population and species status
Due to frequent migrations, and lifestyle, the population of bearded seals is extremely difficult to track. According to the latest data, there are about 400,000 individuals in the world. And this means that despite the ruthless hunting of the peoples of the north for these animals, the population of the species is not currently threatened. The species Erignathus barbatus has the status of Least Concern. Hunting for sea hares in our country is prohibited from ships. For personal use, hunting is allowed in small quantities. In the Sea of Okhotsk, hunting is completely prohibited due to the fact that whaling facilities operate there.
Sea hares are a traditional food product for the inhabitants of the Far North. And hunting for these animals is carried out all year round, it is almost impossible to track the number of killed individuals, since hunting is carried out in wild places with a harsh climate. The ecological component can cause a great danger to the population.
Pollution of the waters, excessive production of fish and crustaceans in the habitats of the seals, makes the animals starve, and they are forced to look for more and more new places for food. These animals are saved by the fact that most of the habitat of animals is places with a very harsh climate, where there are few or no people. Sea hares are well adapted to harsh environmental conditions and can live in places inaccessible to humans, basically, therefore, nothing threatens the population.
The sea hare is a peaceful and calm animal that feeds exclusively on marine food. These animals calmly relate to their relatives and live together, but communicate little. Sea hares are constantly traveling, and often do it against their will. Swimming on drifting ice floes in the conditions of the Far North, which of the living creatures is capable of such a thing? Take care of nature, let's take care of these animals and try to save the population of bearded seals so that future generations can admire them.