Seals are cute semi-aquatic mammals that are often admired for their fur. People tend to think there are only a few different species of seals, and they are either grey, black, or brown, but seal color is actually a little bit more complicated than that.
What Color Are Seals?
Most seals are dark grey, brown, or black. Their fur changes throughout the year, depending on the atmosphere and salinity of the water.
Not many people realize that there are 18 species of true seals in the world. Their most distinctive feature is the lack of ears. Although most are similar to each other, the color varies between species, time of the year, and age.
Some seals are counter-shaded, which means their backs are darker than their bellies, some have a solid color, and some have spots or stripes.
|Bearded seal||Greyish-brown, darker on the back.|
Sometimes with a few light spots on the back or dark on the sides, and reddish brown face and neck.
|Hooded seal||Silver-grey or white, with black spots in varying sizes covering most of the body.|
|Ringed seal||Dark grey coat with silver rings on the back and sides and a silver belly.|
|Baikal seal||Steely-grey coat on their backs with a yellowish tinge on abdomen.|
|Caspian seal||Greyish-yellow to dark grey dorsally, with a pale belly. Multiple brown to black spots on the back.|
|Spotted seal||Light silver to gray and white with dark, irregular spots on the lighter background covering the whole body.|
|Harbor seal||Each seal has an unique spot pattern. Can be either dark on a light background or light on a dark. Color varies from brownish black to tan or grey with lighter belly.|
|Grey seal||Males are darker than females, with light patches around the neck. Females are silver grey to brown with dark patches.|
|Ribbon seal||Black with four white strips – one around the neck, one around the tail, and a one around each front fin.|
|Harp seal||Silver-gray fur with black harp or wishbone-shaped marking on the back.|
|Weddell seal||Bluish-black to dark gray dorsally and to light gray/silver on the belly.|
|Leopard seal||Counter-shaded silver to dark gray blend with a “leopard” pattern dorsally, and a white to light gray color ventrally.|
|Crabeater seal||Brown or silver fur with darker coloration around flippers.|
|Ross seal||Dark-brown on the back with silvery-white belly.|
|Southern elephant seal||Grey and brown with no markings.|
|Northers elephant seal||A silver to dark gray coat. Color usually fades to brownish-yellow or tan.|
|Mediterranean monk seal||The male‘s fur is black or brown and female’s is dark grey, with a paler belly, which is close to white in males.|
|Hawaiian monk seal||Grey coat with white belly.|
Although differing in sizes and shapes, most seals share similar coloration. Their fur is mostly dark grey, dark brown, or black, and most seals also have lighter-colored bellies (usually light grey).
Seals often change color throughout their lifetime, usually becoming slightly darker with age, and throughout the year, becoming lighter before molting.
The color can also change depending on the chemical composition of the water they swim in, and some seals even get their fur tinged green from the algae growing in warmer climates.
A few seals would stand out from the grey and brown mass of their relatives.
- Ribbon seal
The most significant difference is usually their spotted pattern, although the most distinctively colored seal is the Ribbon seal. Its black body is crossed with four white stripes – one circular strip around each front flipper, one around the neck, and one around the tail. The stripes appear when a seal is about four years old. Before then, its color is counter-shaded, with a dark grey back and light grey belly.
- Harp seal
Another easier distinguished seal is the Harp seal. It has a dark grey body with a light grey harp-shaped mark on its back. The mark is more pronounced in males.
- Spotted seal
Next on the list is the Spotted seal. As the name suggests, Spotted seals have irregular dark spots covering their bodies. The fur is usually silvery to light grey. Although they may differ in shades of grey, most Spotted seals look a little like overweight dalmatians.
- Harbor seal
Very similar to Spotted seals is the Harbor seal. Their fur is either light grey with dark spots or dark grey with light spots. Both species can sometimes be confused with each other.
- Leopard seal
Another seal that stands out is the Leopard seal. Although also spotted, Leopard seals have the most predatory look of all true seals, and their spots resemble a leopard pattern. They are also counter-shaded, which means their back is darker grey than their belly.
- Ringed seal
The Ringed seal is another spotted stand out from the plain grey and brown collective. The dark grey fur is covered with light grey circles, or rings, giving the seal its name.
What Color Are Seal Pups?
Seal pups are usually white or black, depending on the species.
Baby seals are born with a solid color fur. The fur is usually longer and more fluffy than adult seals. Most seal pups are born white, but a few seal species give birth to very dark brown or black pups, like the Mediterranean or Hawaiian monk seal.
The white color of baby seals serves as camouflage, preventing pups from being spotted by predators while they lay helpless on the snow or ice.
Some seals that don’t live in the cold regions and give birth on rocks or sandy beaches still give birth to white pups, and it is believed that the white coat is a reminder of their previous habitat that changed over millennia.
The fluffy coat falls out during their first molting, usually occurring within the first two months of seal pups’ life.
Why Are Seals The Color They Are?
Like everything in nature, the seal’s color has its place and reason. All seals need to blend with their surroundings to hide from their predators and be invisible to their prey.
Seals adopted different colors and patterns depending on their habitat, although the most common camouflage is counter-shade – a seal’s back is darker than the belly.
When the light shines from above, the object is lighter on the upper side and darker on the bottom, appearing solid and three-dimensional. By having darker upper and lighter lower bodies, seals counter the light, appearing flat, therefore harder to detect by their prey and predators alike.
Some seals also have spots additionally to their camo coloring, which help blend with the surroundings.
The biggest mystery to scientists is markings on the Ribbon seal. The white stripes on black fur seem to stand out, but biologists studying Ribbon seals think that the stripes are probably making seals less visible to predators.
There are many species of seals, and to the untrained eye, some of them can be mistaken for one another. Most seals are grey or brown with no special markings, but a few stand out from the group.
The reason behind seals coloring is primarily camouflaging. Some seals developed spots or stripes. Others are counter-shaded to trick their predators and prey alike. Even baby seals use camouflage to stay out of trouble.