Gray seals are marine mammals that can be found in coastal waters throughout the North Atlantic. They can often be seen hauled out on ice or land. Reaching about 7.5 ft (2.3 m) long, adult males have curved noses and horse-like heads. They are typically darker and larger than females. Gray seals feed on a variety of fish and invertebrates.
In order to conserve oxygen and remain underwater for extended periods of time while diving for food, gray seals will slow their heart rates down. When not hunting, they may spend their time resting on rocks or resting vertically in the water with their nostrils just above the surface. During much of the year, these seals are typically found alone or in small groups.
However, they will gather together in large groups when mating, giving birth or molting. Males will mate with multiple females during each breeding season. Females become pregnant for about 11 months before giving birth to one pup. A pup will nurse its mother for three weeks. Then, they are abandoned by their mothers.
At this point, the pups will fast for 1 to 4 weeks before heading out to sea. Pups are born with white fur. The fur helps to keep them warm. After about three weeks, their white fur is shed and a darker coat grows in place. For adults, molting takes place every year about two months after breeding.
Molting can take several weeks to complete. Currently, most populations of gray seals are doing well and increasing in size. Adults will typically live 25 to 35 years. However, gray seals were previously hunted heavily during the 20th century in multiple countries. Bounties used to be offered in Canada to kill the seals because they ate fish, like the Atlantic salmon, that fishermen wanted for themselves.
Some of the threats gray seals face today are fishing net entanglement, boat strikes, chemical pollution, and oil spills. Gray seals are even occasionally spotted eating younger members of their own species.
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