Harbor Seal


Daily Activity Cycle

  • Unlike most pinnipeds, adult harbor seals are usually solitary and rarely interact other than to mate. However, they often haul out in loosely organized groups. These groups may include both sexes and all ages.
  • Harbor seals generally do not touch each other when hauled out. They maintain a space between them of a meter (several feet) or more. If touched by another harbor seal, they respond with growling, snorting, flipper-waving, head-thrusting, scratching, or biting.
    • Young harbor seals interact with each other on the fringes of the group and stay away from the adults. Harbor seals become less playful and less tolerant of close contact as they mature. 

Individual Behavior

  • Harbor seals often haul out onto rocks or beaches. Harbor seals can haul out any time of the day or night. Haul out time is often limited by tide height. At many sites harbor seals are more likely to haul out at certain times of the day, such as afternoon and evening hours, although this behavior may vary with the season.
    • While on land, harbor seals rarely move from one location. They remain alert and wary, however, and turn their heads frequently to watch for potential danger. When alarmed, harbor seals will flush (quickly rush) into the water.
    • Studies show that, within a season, harbor seals tend to return to one or two particular haul-out sites with regularity. The preferred sites may change seasonally.
      • Harbor seals show aggression by growling, snorting, and waving threateningly with a foreflipper. Another aggressive behavior is head-thrusting - sharp, rapid extension and retraction of the neck. Fighting is rare, except between competing males during the mating season.

Interaction with Other Species

Harbor seals often are found sharing haul-out space with other pinnipeds, such as California sea lions and Northern elephant seals. Harbor seals rarely interact with other species but show aggression if threatened.