WhaleNet /Seal Data*
Hooded Seals

(Cystophora cristata)


Hooded seals are marine mammals, related to other pinnipeds like sea lions and walruses. Pinnipeds feed in the ocean, but return to land to mate and bear young. They also will come ashore to rest or if they are wounded or sick.


Hooded seals are the largest seals on the East Coast. Adult male hooded seals average 9 feet and weigh up to 900 pounds. Females are somewhat smaller, reaching lengths of 7.5 feet and often weighing more than 600 pounds.


Adult hooded seals have a distinctive bluish-gray coat spattered with dark, irregular spots. The face is black, with a broad, flattened muzzle, and their large eyes are positioned near the top of the head. Males have a hood-like structure on top of the muzzle which can be inflated to form a crest nearly twice the size of a football during courting and territorial displays. Males can also inflate their nasal septum and blow it out through the nose like a red balloon. Females have much smaller crests; they do not have the nasal feature.

Hooded seals are powerful swimmers but they are unable to walk on land. Instead, they use a wriggling motion to move on their bellies when on shore. Like all true seals, they have a thick layer of blubber beneath their skin which provides insulation, reserve energy and buoyancy.


Hooded seals feed on redfish, Greenland halibut, squid, herring, octopus, capelin, arctic cod, shrimp and mussels, among other things.


Hooded seals are common to eastern Canadian arctic and subarctic waters, but wandering individuals have been spotted as far south as Puerto Rico. Outside of the breeding season, which they spend on ice floes, hooded seals frequent deep water and are known to travel great distances. (One female hooded seal wandered as far as San Diego, CA, traveling approximately 13,000 km through the Northwest passage.) Historically, only a few hooded seals have been sighted in southern New England waters. Since the late 1980s, however, these numbers have been increasing. The change seems to be due to shifts in distribution rather than an increase in population.

Breeding & Birth:

Hooded seals lead solitary lives for most of the year. Pups are born on drifting ice floes off Canada at the end of March/beginning of April. Pups average 3-1/2 feet in length and weigh 50 pounds when they are born. They are called "bluebacks" because of the sharp delineation between their beautiful blue-gray backs and their cream-colored undersides. Hooded seals have the shortest lactating period of any marine mammal -- about 4 days. After lactation, the adults return to the ocean; pups remain on the drifting ice for up to two weeks before taking to sea on their own.


Until the mid 1980s, the hooded seal population was hunted for pelts by Norway, Great Britain, Canada and the USSR. Since then, the market for seal coats has evaporated and hooded seals are much less frequently hunted. Hooded seals have been protected in the U.S. since 1972 when Congress passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits the taking of wild seals in U.S. waters except by permit. The New England Aquarium is authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service to care for sick or stranded marine mammals. Approximately 6-12 hooded seals, mostly pups, are picked up by the New England Aquarium each year.

Aquarium Experts:

Greg Early, Associate Curator of Animal Care/ Marine Mammal Rescue and Rehabilitation Program
Scott Kraus, Associate Director of Research
Maggie Mooney-Seus, Senior Conservation Associate/Policy Analyst

All inquiries should be directed to the Public Relations Office: (617) 973-5222 or 973-5213. Website: http://www.neaq.org/

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