Ribbon Seal

Phoca fasciata
Family: Phocidae
ribbon seal

Photo © Kathy Frost


See a 3-D animation of a ribbon seal skull.

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ribbon seal range map

Distribution/Migration: Arctic, North Pacific. Follow ice: range farther south in heavy ice (cold) years. Movements in ice-free months uncertain but probably pelagic in Bering and Chukchi seas. Pink shows summer range, purple shows year-round.

This web page is modified from the book Marine Mammals of Alaska by Kate Wynne, illustrated by Pieter Folkens, available at the Alaska Sea Grant Bookstore.

Marine Mammal Guide

SIZE: Average adult 5 ft (1.5 m), 150 lbs. At birth 3 ft (1 m), 25 lbs.

BODY: Medium size seal with small head, large eyes, short muzzle. Fur has distinctive color pattern.

COLOR: All >1 yr old have light bands on dark background encircling the neck, each front flipper, and torso. Background darker on males than females. Pups born with lanugo (soft wooly hair), molt after 4 weeks to first-year coat of blue-gray back with light sides.

BEHAVIOR: Not wary when hauled out on ice. Run across ice (using alternating front legs, swinging hindquarters) rather than phocidulating (undulating or heaving the body in a caterpillar-like manner) like most seals. Seldom seen in water. Surface with very little of head showing.

HABITAT: Ice-associated, rarely haul out on land. Southern edge of sea ice winter and spring. Probably pelagic summer and fall.

FOOD HABITS: Eat a variety of pelagic fish and invertebrates: shrimp, crabs, octopus, squid, cod, sculpin, pollock, capelin, eelpouts.

LIFE HISTORY: Sexually mature at 3–5 yrs. Breed in May. Single pup per yr born early April on open ice floes after 11-mo gestation. Lactation is 3–4 wks. Molt annually before ice recedes (March–July). May live 30 yrs.

STATUS AND HUMAN INTERACTIONS: Status unknown. Estimated 50,000–100,000 in Bering Sea. Heavy commercial harvest in 1960s by Russian sealers has been reduced to about 4000 per yr. Alaska Native subsistence harvest of <200 per yr for meat, fur, oil. Vulnerable to reduction in sea ice.