Called harp seals because of the lyre-shaped pattern on the backs of adults, these pinnipeds are true polar animals. Their scientific name, pagaphilus groenlandicus means ice lover from Greenland and watching them on the pack ice it becomes clear how they got this name. Harp seals spend most of their lives in the high arctic, but for a few weeks each year, they migrate down to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. During this time they engage in courtship, mating and pupping, if females had become pregnant from the previous year. All of this drama is played out against a backdrop of transient pack ice that is constantly moving with wind and tide.
Harp seals have the second fastest weaning in the animal kingdom, being completely on their own at about 14 days old. The pups begin testing the waters when they are about twelve days old, often sliding in the icy sea for only a few minutes and then crawling back to the ice. When they are a few days older, they begin swimming deeper, along the ice shelf and beneath the canopy. Upon first entering the water they are buoyant, their white coats holding air. This was the time when I had my best chances to make pictures, as we see in this photograph, when the young seal was trying to figure out its world and was acclimating to the icy ocean that would become its home.
Location: Gulf of Saint Lawrence, Canada
Photograph Date: 2004
Medium: Chromogenic Print