Under Construction January 2011


Phoca fasciata


Length: less than 10mm, tips often broken off in phocidae (Mayer 1952)  8-10mm (ASM #1)

Diameter Range: 215-230 microns (ASM #1)

Medullary Index: N/A

Medulla: None

Color:  Brown areas are only brown at the tips of the hairs.  Darker at tips, lighter near the base.  Pigment is localized in the center, appears as dots and not dashes. (ASM #1)

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: 3-5mm (ASM #1)

Diameter Range: 10 -20 microns (ASM #1)

Medullary Index: N/A

Medulla: none

Color: usually colorless (ASM #1)

Scales: Stacked crowns, frayed tips (ASM #1)

Macro Qualities: Average 5.5 feet long, larger than ringed seals but smaller than bearded seals.  Four nearly white bands around neck, nail and flippers on a dark background.  Males have more contrast between the light and dark.  Babies are born with soft white lanugo that is shed after about 5 weeks.  New coat is blue or black on back and silver or gray on the belly, not forming prominent rings until about 4 years of age (ADF&G 2008)  Brown with bands of yellowish white around the neck, flipper and rump.  Banded pattern is also seen on harp seals but they do not live in Alaska.  ASM collection # I-B-34 pelt from Nome area is very glossy and has been tanned.  Pelt around 4 feet long Brown areas are only brown at the tips.  (ASM #1)

Cultures: For example: Yup’ik, Cu’piq and Inupiaq.  In modern times, subsistence hunters take only about 200 ribbon seals annually, far fewer than any other ice seal species, in part because they are not often found near coastal villages. (ADF&G 2008)

Notes: ASM #1 is a ribbon seal pelt I-B-34.  Earless seals (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: Rarest seal in Alaska, mainly in the Bering Sea but sometimes the Chukchi as well (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.  These are also known as “hair seals” or “true seals” (ADF&G 2008)  Also called Histriophoca fasciata.  Qasruliq (Yup’ik,) qasruleq (Cup’iq on Nunivak Island,) qaiqulik (northern Inupiaq) (ADF&G 2008)


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