Seal Diet: What Do Seals Eat?

what do seals eat

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Seals can be found all over the globe, with most being in the icy Arctic regions but many being along coastlines in the US, UK, and many other countries.

These marine animals are perfectly adapted for life in the ocean, and one look at their large head and fully equipped jaws should give you a good idea as to what these animals eat.

Today, we’re going to take a closer look at the seals’ diet and answer a question that many are interested in when it comes to these cute mammals. What do seals eat?

Seals are carnivorous marine mammals that feed mostly on fish, but many also eat squid, krill, crustaceans, and many other types of marine animals.

What Kind Of Food Do Seals Eat?

With around 35 species of seal, their diet varies depending on the species. For the most part, many species of seal feed on fish, squid, octopuses, and krill.

However, some species such as the Leopard seal will feed on much larger animals, including penguins.

Seals are carnivores that are equipped with a set of sharp teeth, allowing them to grab onto prey and tear it into bite-sized chunks before consuming it.

What Type Of Fish Do Seals Eat?

Seals are opportunistic feeders that will eat many different types of fish depending on what is readily available at the time.

They will often change their diet depending on what food source is in season, for example, when salmon is in season and spawning, many Harbor seals will food on a lot of this fish.

Whereas when salmon is out of season, Harbor seals will change their diet and eat primarily codfish, with only a small amount of salmon.

Below are some of the species of fish that many seals eat:

  • Salmon
  • Rockfish
  • Herring
  • Flounder
  • Hake
  • Sea trout
  • Cod
  • Eel
  • Whitefish
  • Hake
  • Redfish
  • Trout
  • Wrasse
  • Mackerel
  • Pollock
  • Sea bass
  • Eelpout
  • Halibut
  • Silverfish
  • Toothfish
  • Horsefish
  • Pacific whiting
  • Shad
  • Capelin
  • Tuna

Seals will eat a variety of different fish species, often whatever is available at the time. They are not particularly fussy eaters and will consume whatever their parents have brought them up with.

How Do Seals Find Food?

Seals are some of the best swimmers in the animal kingdom that are just as comfortable swimming on their backs, side or belly as they are swimming straight forward.

They are incredibly agile in the water and thanks to their powerful flippers they are able to swim at speeds of up to 18mph.

Seals hunt in a variety of different ways, and the methods they use largely depend on the seal species as many use different techniques.

The Leopard seal for example will wait for penguins coming in from the ocean to feed their young.

These apex predators will hide beneath the surface or behind ice caps and pick off the penguins that are exhausted by bursting out from behind the ice.

Once captured they will rip the penguin to shreds, tearing it into bite-size pieces and feasting on their catch.

The Weddell seal can dive to depths of almost 2000 feet and stay submerged for up to one hour looking for prawns and other bottom feeders.

Northern Elephant seals will swim 13,000 miles or more through the ocean in search of food and often won’t return to land until it’s time to reproduce and molt.

The methods seals use to hunt prey vary drastically. But more often than not, many species will look for schools of fish out in the ocean that they can charge into and grab a bite to eat.

Most of the seals’ prey is small and manageable, so they will swallow it whole beneath the surface to ensure that their meal cannot be taken from them.

How Much Do Seals Eat Per Day?

The amount of food a seal needs to eat will depend on its age as well as the species. However, a good rule of thumb for adult seals is that they need to eat around 5 – 10% of their body weight each day.

Some seals are sedentary, meaning they are not required to eat as much food as an active species that is always on the move.

Seals that are breeding or molting don’t eat at all for long periods of time.

Huge elephant seals can eat as much as 180 – 270 pounds of seafood daily whilst at sea, but when it reaches land they will fast for weeks.

This is because they are unable to leave their young unattended on land, but they also don’t enter the water when mating, fighting, or giving birth.

What Do Seal Pups Eat?

Young seal pups typically stay on land for about a month or so until their waterproof fur grows in and they can start to forage for their own food.

Seal pups feed on their mother’s milk for the first 4 – 6 weeks, but then their mothers start to bring the young pup some fish to feed on.

When seal pups are first weaned from their mother’s milk, they typically lose weight drastically, sometimes 1/3 of their body weight whilst learning to hunt.

However, being hungry is excellent motivation for young pups and pushed them to learn how to catch fish for themselves quickly.

Very quickly seal pups learn how to hunt for themselves, and once they can do so they take on the big blue ocean by themselves.

Final Thoughts

What do seals eat? Mainly fish, krill, octopuses, squid, and other crustaceans. The type of food a seal eats largely depends on the species.

That said, as they are marine animals most of their diet is made up of fish, as well as other abundant animals that are found in the ocean.

Some large seals such as the Leopard seal feeds on mammals such as penguins, and actively hunt these animals whilst at sea.

Hopefully, this post has answered your question and provided you with insight into what seals eat and the variety of their prey.

They are opportunistic feeders that will take what they can get, which is often a variety of different fish combined with marine crustaceans.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post, if you have enjoyed it, feel free to stick around to learn more about seals and other marine life.