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Earless Seals (Family: Phocidae; true seals) - Wiki
Subject: Earless Seals (Family: Phocidae; true seals) - Wiki
Crabeater Seals, Lobodon carcinophagus (js).jpg
Resolution: 1172x768 File Size: 194540 Bytes Date: 2006:12:21 11:09:20 Upload Date: 2007:12:21 11:24:47

Earless Seals (Family: Phocidae; true seals) - Wiki

Earless seal
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Caniformia
Superfamily: Pinnipedia
Family: Phocidae Gray, 1821
Genera: Monachus (Monk Seals), Mirounga (Elephant Seal), Lobodon (Crabeater Seals), Leptonychotes, Hydrurga (Leopard Seals), Ommatophoca, Erignathus (Bearded Seals), Phoca, Pusa, Halichoerus (Grey Seals), Cystophora (Hooded Seals)

[Photo] Crabeater Seals, Lobodon carcinophagus (Polski: Krabojady). Author Jerzy Strzelecki (
Copyright (C) 2007 Jerzy Strzelecki
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

The true seals or earless seals are one of the three main groups of mammals within the seal suborder, Pinnipedia. All true seals are members of the family Phocidae. They are sometimes called crawling seals to distinguish them from the fur seals and sea lions of family Otariidae. Seals live in the oceans of both hemispheres and are mostly confined to polar, sub-polar, and temperate climes, with the exception of the more tropical Monk Seals.

Anatomy and behaviour
Phocids are more highly specialized for aquatic life than otariids, although they still return to dry land or pack ice in order to breed and give birth. They lack external ears and have sleek, streamlined bodies. To further aid streamlining, their nipples can be retracted, their testicles are internal, and the penis lies in an internal sheath. A smooth layer of blubber lies underneath the skin, and phocids are able to divert blood-flow to this layer to help control their temperature.

Their fore-flippers are used primarily for steering, while their hind flippers are bound to the pelvis in such a way that they cannot bring them under their body to walk on them. Phocids swim by sideways movements of their bodies, using their hind-flippers to their fullest effect.

They are more streamlined than fur seals and sea lions and can therefore swim more effectively over long distances than those can. However, because they cannot turn their hind flippers downward, they are very clumsy on land, having to wriggle with their front flippers and abdominal muscles; this method of locomotion is called galumphing.

Phocid respiratory and circulatory systems are adapted to allow diving to considerable depths, and they can spend a long time underwater between breaths. Air is forced from the lungs during a dive and into the upper respiratory passages, where gases cannot easily be absorbed into the bloodstream. This helps protect the seal from the bends. The middle ear is also lined with blood sinuses that inflate during diving, helping to maintain a constant pressure.

True seals do not communicate by "barking" like otariids. Instead, they communicate by slapping the water and grunting.

Adult phocids vary from 1.17 meters in length and 45kg in weight, in the Ringed Seal, to 4.9 meters and 2,400kg in the Southern Elephant Seal.

Phocids have a reduced number of teeth compared with land-based members of the Carnivora, although they retain powerful canines. Some species lack molars altogether. The dental formula is:


The earliest fossil phocids date from the mid-Miocene, 15 million years ago in the north Atlantic. Until recently, many researchers believed that phocids evolved separately from otariids and odobenids from otter-like animals, such as Potamotherium, which inhabited European fresh-water lakes. Recent evidence strongly suggests a monophyletic origin for all pinnipeds from a single ancestor, possibly Enaliarctos, most closely related to the bears.

Monk Seals and Elephant Seals are believed to have first entered the Pacific through the open straits between North and South America, which closed only in the Pliocene. The various Antarctic species may have either used the same route, or travelled down the west coast of Africa.

Feeding and reproduction
While otariids are known for speed and maneuverability in the water, phocids are known for efficient, economical movement. This allows most phocids to make long foraging trips to exploit prey resources that are far from land, whereas otariids are tied to rich upwelling zones close to their breeding sites. A pregnant female spends a long period of time foraging at sea, building up her fat reserves and then returns to the breeding site and uses her stored energy reserves to provide milk for her pup. The common seal (or harbor seal), Phoca vitulina, displays a reproductive strategy similar to those of otariids in which the mother makes short foraging trips between nursing bouts.

Because a phocid mother's feeding grounds are often hundreds of kilometers from the breeding site, this means that she must fast while she is lactating. This combination of fasting with lactation is one of the most unusual and extraordinary behaviors displayed by the Phocidae, because it requires the mother seal to provide large amounts of energy to her pup at a time when she herself is taking in no food (and often, no water) to replenish her stores. Because they must continue to burn fat reserves to supply their own metabolic needs while they are feeding their pups, phocid seals have developed an extremely thick, fat-rich milk that allows them to provide their pups with a large amount of energy in as small a period of time as possible. This allows the mother seal to maximize the efficiency of her energy transfer to the pup and then quickly return to sea to replenish her reserves. The length of lactation in phocids ranges from 28 days in the Northern Elephant Seal to just 3???5 days in the Hooded Seal. The nursing period is ended by the mother, who departs to sea and leaves her pup at the breeding site. Pups will continue to nurse if given the opportunity, and "milk stealers" that suckle from unrelated, sleeping females are not uncommon; this often results in the death of the pup whose mother the milk was stolen from, as any single female can only produce enough milk to provision one pup.

The pup's diet is so high-calorie that the pup builds up a large store of fat. Before the pup is ready to forage on its own, the mother abandons it, and it lives on its fat for weeks or months while it develops independence. Seals, like all marine mammals, need time to develop the oxygen stores, swimming muscles and neural pathways necessary for effective diving and foraging. Seal pups typically eat no food and drink no water during the fast, although some polar species have been observed to eat snow. The post-weaning fast ranges from two weeks in the Hooded Seal to 9???12 weeks in the Northern Elephant Seal. The physiological and behavioral adaptations that allow phocid pups to endure these remarkable fasts, which are among the longest for any mammal, remain an area of active study and research.


Family Otariidae: fur seals and sea lions
Family Odobenidae: Walrus
Family Phocidae

Subfamily Monachinae

** Tribe Monachini
Monachopsis (non-extinct)
Pristiphoca (extinct)
Properiptychus (extinct)
Messiphoca (extinct)
Mesotaria (extinct)
Callophoca (extinct)
Pliophoca (extinct)
Pontophoca (extinct)
Hawaiian Monk Seal, Monachus schauinslandi
Mediterranean Monk Seal, Monachus monachus
Caribbean Monk Seal, Monachus tropicalis (probably extinct around 1950)

** Tribe Miroungini
Northern Elephant Seal, Mirounga angustirostris
Southern Elephant Seal, Mirounga leonina

** Tribe Lobodontini
Monotherium wymani (extinct)
Ross Seal, Ommatophoca rossi
Crabeater Seal, Lobodon carcinophagus
Leopard Seal, Hydrurga leptonyx
Weddell Seal, Leptonychotes weddellii
Swan-necked Seal, Acrophoca longirostris (extinct)
Piscophoca pacifica (extinct)
Homiphoca capensis (extinct)

Subfamily Phocinae
Kawas benegasorum (extinct)
Leptophoca lenis (extinct)
Preapusa (extinct)
Cryptophoca (extinct)
Bearded Seal, Erignathus barbatus
Hooded Seal, Cystophora cristata

** Tribe Phocini
Common Seal or Harbor Seal, Phoca vitulina
Spotted Seal or Larga Seal, Phoca largha
Ringed Seal, Pusa hispida (formerly Phoca hispida)
Nerpa or Baikal Seal, Pusa sibirica (formerly Phoca sibirica)
Caspian Seal, Pusa caspica (formerly Phoca caspica)
Harp Seal, Pagophilus groenlandica (formerly Phoca groenlandicus)
Ribbon Seal, Histriophoca fasciata (formerly Phoca fasciata)
Phocanella (extinct)
Platyphoca (extinct)
Gryphoca (extinct)
Grey Seal, Halichoerus grypus

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Family Phocidae

This diverse group contains 19 species in 10 genera. Phocids are broadly distributed along coastlines above 30 degrees N latitude and south of 50 degree S latitude. Some species are also found at intermediate tropical localities, and in a few freshwater lakes and rivers.

Members of this family vary tremendously in size, from small ringed seals, which weigh around 90 kg, to massive elephant seals, the males of which weigh up to 3600 kg and are the largest of the pinnipeds. Their bodies are streamlined ("fusiform"). They lack any external ear. Forelimbs are relatively short, less than 25% of the length of the body and smaller than the hind flippers. They have well developed claws. The large hind flippers extend straight backward and cannot be brought under the body. On land, earless seals are awkward, moving by a combination of sliding and flexing their spines from side to side. Even so, some species are capable of moving faster than a human. Phocids have a short, stubby tail, and males have a well-developed baculum.

Young of many phocids are covered with dense, soft, often white coats. In adults, the fur is often stiff and short, without an appreciable undercoat. A few species are nearly naked. Some have spotted or banded color patterns. A thick, insulating layer of blubber lies beneath the skin; the weight of the blubber may amount to more than 25% of the entire weight of the animal.

Members of Family Phocidae
Genus Cystophora (hooded seal)
Genus Erignathus (bearded seal)
Genus Halichoerus (gray seal)
Genus Histriophoca (ribbon seal)
Genus Hydrurga (leopard seal)
Genus Leptonychotes (Weddell seal)
Genus Lobodon (crabeater seal)
Genus Mirounga (elephant seals)
Genus Monachus (monk seals)
Genus Ommatophoca (Ross seal)
Genus Pagophilus (harp seal)
Genus Phoca (harbor seals)
Genus Pusa (ringed, Baikal, and Caspian seals)

Phoca groenlandicus
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