July 15, 2008
The Bearded Seal (Erignanthus barbatus) at 2-2.5 metres in length and weighing 250-300 kg is the largest of the northern phocid seals. They possess patchy distribution throughout the circumpolar Arctic where their favoured habitat is drifting pack ice over shelves beneath shallow water.
In Svalbard they occur in many of the fjords as well as around the coast. They feed by diving for clams, shrimps, squid, crabs and various fish and will search sediments on the fjord floor by using their long whiskers to detect prey. They are quite approachable if not hunted but will eventually slide smoothly from the ice into the water if one gets too close.
Photographed here under the front of the Nordenskjøld glacier at the head of Billefjorden, Spitsbergen. Glacier fronts such as this one are usually rich in food due to strong up-currents bringing food near the surface. For this reason they are also favoured by birds, especially gulls.