SEAL, BEARDED

Under Construction May 2011

BEARDED SEAL

Erignathus barbatus

GUARD HAIR

Length: less than 10mm, tips often broken off in phocidae (Mayer 1952)

Diameter Range: 110 microns (ASM#1)

Medullary Index: None

Medulla: None

Color: Translucent with splotches of brown.

Scales: Closely spaced, generally parallel edges, margins can be smooth at tip and base but rough margins in the middle.  Sometimes scales don’t seem to change much in appearance along the length of the shaft.

UNDERFUR

Length: 5mm (ASM #1)

Diameter Range: 12.5-25 microns

Medullary Index: None

Medulla: No medulla

Color: Translucent overall with splotches of brown.

Scales: stacked crowns

Macro Qualities: 6.5 – 9.5 feet long No spots or streaks.  Uniformly grayish to yellowish coloration.  Stiff smoky gray hairs with a darker brown back and cap  (Forsyth 1999).  Largest seal in Alaskan waters, up to 8 feet long with pups up to 4 feet long.  Silver-gray to dark brown with no distinct markings (ADF&G 2008).

Cultures:  For example: Most important seal species for meat, oil and skins.  Iñupiaq and Yup’ik.

Notes: ASM #1 is from a sample in the Sheldon Jackson Museum education collection

Phocidae often have hairs with broken off distal tips.

Troubleshooting: Otariid seal guard hair has a medulla, while Phocid seal guard hair does not.  Differentiating between the Phocid seals under the microscope is difficult, with length and width measurements on guard hairs and underfur being in similar ranges for all the true seals in Alaska.  Scale patterns are similar, and none have medullas.  Ribbon and ringed seals often have distinct pelt markings.  The bearded seal fur may be special in that individual guard hairs tend to be widely spaced and the underfur curlier and denser than other seals, giving a less “smooth” flat fur look, but more investigation is needed to confirm this observation.

Range: Bering Sea side of the Aleutian Islands and northward in coastal areas (Forsyth 1999). Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas (ADF&G 2008). 

Names: Suborder/superfamily Pinnipedia (the pinnipeds) Family Phocidae (the phocids, or “earless seals”). “Ice seals” include ringed seals, ribbon seals, spotted seals and bearded seals who pup on the ice.  These are also known as “hair seals” or “true seals” as opposed to fur seals like the Northern fur seal  Also known as ugruk or oogruk (Iñupiaq,) maklak (Yup’ik)  (ADF&G 2008). 

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