Harbor Seals

Scientific Name: Phoca vitulina

When is the best time to view Harbor Seals in Monterey Bay and where is the best viewing?

Harbor Seals near Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove.

Harbor Seals near Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove.

Harbor seals are often spotted on rocky shorelines and beaches around Monterey Bay.  Common sightings occur on the shores near Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey and the Hopkins Marine Station just a few blocks west of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  In fact, watch for harbor seals all along the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail in Monterey and Pacific Grove.  Additional areas where harbor seals are commonly found are Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and Elkhorn Slough.


About Harbor Seals

Harbor seals are spotted tan or blue-grey with dark spots weighing up to 300 pounds.  While harbor seals are very curious they are actually quite shy and prefer uninhabited shorelines. At the slightest sign of danger, they will slip back into the water and swim away. Harbor seals spend half their time in the water and the other half on land where they tend to gather to rest, digest food, give birth and nurse their young.

Harbor seals are opportunistic feeders preying on schooling or bottom dwelling species such as small fish, octopus, squid, and crustaceans. Harbor seals do not chew their food but rather tear it into chunks or swallow it whole. 

Harbor seals tend to stay in one location most of their lives and only travel when searching for food or a mate during breeding season.  Harbor seals give birth between mid March and mid May to a single pup that weighs 20-24 pounds.  The pup typically doubles in weight during its first month of life due to the high fat content of its mother’s milk is (40% fat vs. 4.5% in humans). Harbor seal pups are able to dive and swim soon after birth and learn to hunt on their own once weaned from their mother’s milk (around 3-6 weeks old).


Harbor Seal Fun Facts

  • Sleep almost completely submerged in the water except for the tip of their nose in a behavior called “bottling”
  • Can hear almost 14x more acute underwater than on land
  • Often dive for about 3-7 minutes but may stay under water as long as 30 minutes
  • May dive as deep as 1500 feet
  • On a dive their heartbeat slows from about 100 beats per minute to 10
  • In one breath a harbor seal can exchange 90% of the air in its lungs (humans only change 20% of air per breath)

Habitat: Kelp forests; temperate and subarctic coastal areas on both sides of the north Atlantic and north Pacific Oceans

Length: up to 6 feet

Weight: up to 300 pounds

Diet: fish, squid and crustaceans

Lifespan: 25-30 years