Under Construction May 2011


Phoca vitulina


Length: less than 10mm, tips often broken off in phocidae (Mayer 1952) 5-7mm (ASM #1) 6-9mm (ASM #2)

Diameter Range: 150-185 microns (ASM #1) 215 microns (ASM #2)

Medullary Index: No medulla

Medulla: None

Color: Clear (medium-filled) with small and random specks of brown pigmentation throughout (ASM #1). Clear with many brown spots and dashed throughout (ASM #2).

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.


Length: 3mm (ASM #1) 3-5mm (ASM #2)

Diameter Range: 20 microns (ASM #2)

Medullary Index: No medulla

Medulla: No medulla

Color: Clear with brown pigmentation scattered in dots and dashes especially concentrated towards the proximal end of the fiber and lessening towards the tip, where pigmentation is absent.

Scales: Stacked crowns

Macro Qualities: 4 -6 feet long (Forsyth 1999). Iron-gray with brown spots, brown with gray spots, silver gray or brownish-black.  Some sources say they do not have streaks.  Young ones might not be spotted yet.  Also described (Forsyth 1999) as blue-gray with irregular dark brown splotches or streaks.  Silver-white belly with scattered dark spots is a common marking. Lighter-colored seals predominate in the Gulf of Alaska, Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak Island areas, while the darker seals are more typical of the Aleutian Islands, Southern Alaska and Western Alaska (Rearden 1981).  Up to 6 feet long, with two basic patterns: dark background with light rings, or light color sides and belly with darker blotches or spots (ADF&G 2008).

Cultures: For example: Tlingit, Alutiiq, Iñupiaq (ADF&G 2008) 

Notes: ASM #1 is from the Sheldon Jackson Museum touchboard, ASM #2 is from a moccasin piece made in Klukwan now in the ASM conservation lab, ASM #3 is from an old slide in the ASM conservation lab. (Phocidae) often have hairs with broken off distal tips.  Root has brown pigmentation and is 75 microns at max width (ASM #1).

Troubleshooting: Otariid seal guard hair has a medulla, while Phocid seal guard hair does not.  Spotted seals and harbor seals can look quite similar.  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: From Dixon entrance north to Kuskokwim Bay and throughout the Aleutian Islands.  Sometimes seen in rivers and lakes.(ADF&G 2008) 

Names: Suborder/superfamily Pinnipedia (the pinnipeds) Family Phocidae (the phocids, or “earless seals”)  Harbor seals are sometimes called “common seal.”  They are a “hair seal” or a “true seal” but all the other species of those seals in Alaska are also “ice seals” who pup on the ice.  Harbor seals pup on the beach and are not “ice seals”.  Tsaa (Tlingit), isuwiq (Alutiiq) and qasigiaq (Iñupiaq) (ADF&G 2008) 

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