American Oceans

What Do Seals Eat?

Seals are fascinating creatures that are found in both polar and temperate waters. These marine mammals are known for their playful nature, unique vocalizations, and their impressive diving abilities.

a seal with a fish in its mouth

However, one of the most interesting aspects of seals is their diet.

Seals are carnivorous animals that primarily feed on fish, squid, and crustaceans. However, the specific types of prey that seals consume can vary depending on the species and the location.

Understanding what seals eat is not only important for gaining insight into their behavior and biology, but it also has broader implications for marine ecosystems. Seals are an important part of the food chain, and changes in their diet can have ripple effects throughout the ecosystem.

As such, researchers continue to study the feeding habits of seals in order to better understand their role in the marine environment.

Seal Diet

a hawaiian monk seal on the beach

Seals are carnivorous and their diet mainly consists of fish, squid, crustaceans, shellfish, penguins, and seabirds.

Seals are opportunistic predators and their diet may vary depending on the availability of prey in their habitat.

Fish and Squid

Fish and squid are the most common prey for seals. Seals mostly consume small fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, and codfish.

They also eat squid, which is a good source of protein for them. Seals have a varied diet and the type of fish they consume depends on the location and season.

Crustaceans and Shellfish

Seals also feed on crustaceans and shellfish such as prawns, shrimp, and silverfish. These prey items are rich in nutrients and provide seals with the necessary energy to survive.

Penguins and Seabirds

Seals also prey on penguins and seabirds. Penguins are a common prey item for seals in the Antarctic region. Seals are known to hunt penguins by ambushing them from beneath the water. Seabirds such as cormorants, gulls, and terns are also preyed upon by seals.

Seals have a diverse diet that includes a variety of seafood. They are skilled hunters and have adapted to their environment to become efficient predators. The type of prey consumed by seals may vary depending on the location and season.

Seal Hunting and Feeding Habits

Seals are semi-aquatic marine mammals that are hunted by predators such as killer whales, polar bears, and sharks.

They are also hunted by humans for their meat, fur, and oil. Seal hunting is an ancient practice that dates back thousands of years and is still practiced in some parts of the world today. Hunters use various techniques to catch seals, including:

  • Shooting them with rifles or shotguns
  • Harpooning them with spears
  • Using nets or traps to catch them

Feeding and Swallowing

Seals are carnivorous and feed on a variety of prey, including fish, squid, and crustaceans. Their diet varies depending on their location, age, and sex.

For example, bearded seals in the Bering and Chukchi Seas eat more shrimps when they are younger, while older seals feed more on fish.

Seals have strong jaws and teeth that they use to catch and crush their prey. They also have sensitive whiskers that help them detect vibrations in the water, allowing them to locate their prey. Once they catch their prey, they swallow it whole, as they are not able to chew their food.

Seals can consume large amounts of food in a single meal, with some species consuming up to 30% of their body weight per day.

They are also able to dive to great depths to forage for food, with some species able to dive up to 2,000 feet.

Seal hunting and feeding habits are complex topics that are still being studied today. While some populations of seals are threatened by overhunting and habitat loss, others are thriving and are an important part of the marine ecosystem.

Seal Predators and Threats

Seal takes shelter in kelp forest

Seals have several natural predators, including polar bears, killer whales, and sharks. Polar bears are the primary predator of ringed and bearded seals, while killer whales prey on several species of seals, including harbor seals, gray seals, and elephant seals.

Sharks, on the other hand, are known to prey on smaller seal species such as leopard seals and common seals.

Human Threats

Seals also face several threats from humans, including hunting, pollution, and habitat destruction. In the past, seals were hunted for their meat, blubber, and fur, which led to a significant decline in seal populations.

Today, hunting is still allowed in some countries, but it is heavily regulated to prevent over-harvesting.

Pollution is another significant threat to seals, as they are sensitive to changes in their environment.

Oil spills, plastic pollution, and other forms of pollution can harm seals directly or indirectly by reducing their food supply.

Finally, habitat destruction is a growing concern for seals, as human activities such as coastal development and offshore drilling can disrupt their natural habitats and food sources.

Seal Pups and Nursing

hawaiian monk seal pup

Seal pups have a very specific diet that is critical to their growth and development. The diet of a seal pup varies depending on the species of seal, but it typically consists of milk from the mother.

The milk that the mother produces is high in fat and protein, which is essential for the pup’s growth.


Nursing is a critical period for seal pups. During this time, they rely solely on their mother’s milk for nutrition.

The milk provides all the necessary nutrients for the pup to grow and develop. Nursing typically lasts for a few weeks to a few months, depending on the species of seal.


As the seal pup grows, it will eventually begin to eat solid food and be weaned off its mother’s milk.

The timing of weaning varies depending on the species of seal, but it typically occurs when the pup is between 4 and 6 months old. Once the pup is weaned, it will begin to eat the same diet as adult seals.

Seal Anatomy Related to Diet

Seals have a unique set of teeth and jaws that are well-suited for their diet. Their sharp, pointed teeth are ideal for catching and holding onto slippery prey, such as fish and squid.

Seals have a large number of teeth, with some species having up to 50 teeth in their jaws. The teeth are not used for chewing, but rather for grasping and tearing apart prey.

Flippers and Swimming

Seals have flippers instead of legs, which are used for swimming. Their flippers are short, strong, and flexible, allowing them to move through the water with ease.

The flippers are also used for steering and stopping while swimming. Seals are excellent swimmers and can swim at high speeds for long periods of time.

Blubber and Fat Storage

Seals have a thick layer of blubber under their skin, which serves as insulation and energy storage. Blubber is a type of fat that provides seals with the energy they need to survive in cold environments.

Seals can store a large amount of fat in their blubber layer, which allows them to go for long periods without food.

Seals’ body weight and size vary depending on the species and their diet. For example, some species of seals are small and feed on fish, while others are larger and feed on krill and other small marine animals.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the typical diet of seals in Alaska?

Seals in Alaska consume a variety of prey, including fish, squid, krill, and crustaceans. The specific diet of seals varies depending on the species, age, and location.

Do seals eat krill, crabs, zooplankton, or squid?

Yes, seals do eat krill, crabs, zooplankton, and squid. These prey items are common in the diet of many seal species.

What are some of the favorite foods of seals?

Some of the favorite foods of seals include herring, salmon, pollock, and squid. These prey items are often consumed in large quantities by seals.

What are 5 common prey items for seals?

Five common prey items for seals include herring, salmon, pollock, squid, and krill. These prey items are often abundant in the waters where seals live.

Do seals consume anything other than fish?

Yes, seals consume a variety of prey items other than fish, including squid, krill, and crustaceans. Some species of seals may also consume birds or marine mammals.

How do seals typically hunt and eat their prey?

Seals typically hunt by swimming through the water and using their keen senses to locate prey. Once they have located their prey, seals will often use their sharp teeth and powerful jaws to capture and eat their prey. Some species of seals may also use their flippers to stun or immobilize their prey before consuming it.

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