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Pinnipeds - what are they?

Pinnipeds are marine mammals. The ancestors of pinnipeds (Pinnipedia) were land-living carnivores (Order: Carnivora) and through evolution they have adapted to life in the water. Some of the adapted characteristic features include the streamlined body shape, limbs which are modified as flippers, a thick layer of blubber, which helps them conserve body heat, and the ability to close ears and nose when they are in water.

Pinnipedes feed on a large variety of prey species. They mostly feed on fish, but also crab, squid, mussels, sea birds and seal pups are found to be part of their diet.

The clade Pinnipedia is divided into 3 families:


True seals

(Latin: Phocidae, 19 species)

Eared seals

(Latin: Otariidae, 15 species)


(Latin: Odobenidae, 1 species)

Silhoutte Hundsrobbe Silhoutte Ohrenrobbe Silhoutte Walroß



Harbour and grey seals belong to the family of true seals. This group of pinnipeds is characterised by the absence of external ear flaps (pinnae), instead they have small openings on both sides of their head. True seals have short front and hind-flippers, and because of the position of the pelvis are unable to turn them forward. Therefore movement on land is accomplished by undulation of the body which often makes the true seals appear clumsy. In the water however true seals are agile and elegant swimmers.



Overview native seals

Grey seal

(Halichoerus grypus)



Common seal

(Phoca vitulina vitulina)

Temperate to subarctic waters in the northern hemisphere




Temperate to subarctic waters in the northern hemisphere

Three populations (Baltic, western Atlantic and eastern Atlantic population)


Five subspecies ( western Atlantic and eastern Atlantic population ,  western Pacific and eastern Pacific population, Ungava seal)


Males: dark brown coat, sometimes nearly black, with few light  patches

Females: light grey coat with dark spots and patches



Unique speckled or spotted pelage (background colour pale grey or brown) with light or dark rings

Long „roman“ nose  


Rounded head


Broad, elongated body



Rounded, fusiform body

Back teeth cone shaped



Back teeth forked

♀ 190-200 cm     ♂ 230 cm



♀ 150 cm     ♂ 170-180 cm

♀ 105-186 kg     ♂ 170-310 kg



♀ 80 kg     ♂ 120 kg   

Up to 40 years


Life span

Up to 40 years

♀ 3-5 years


Sexual maturity


♀ 3-4 years

♂ 5-7 years, first successful mating 8-10 years



♂ 5-6 years

fish, cephalopods, crustaceans, sometimes seabirds

Food / Diet


fish, cephalopods, crustaceans

11 months, including 3 months dormancy

Gestation period


11 months, including 3 months dormancy

Winter: november- january (German Bight)

Birth period


Summer: june - july

Baltic: March- April




2-3 weeks



4-6 weeks

After weaning, in Schleswig-Holstein January - February




After weaning, july and august

On land and in water



In water


~ 450.000 individuals worldwide




~ 500.000 individuals worldwide


~ 4.050  individuals in the Wadden Sea


~ 38.500 individuals in the Wadden Sea


~ 625 in Schleswig-Holstein & on Helgoland


Ca. 10.000 im schleswig-holsteinischen Wattenmeer

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