Natsiq

Baby Seal

Several species of seal call Nunavut waters home: ringed, harp, bearded, hooded, and harbour seals. Ringed seal are arguably the most important seal species for Inuit.

The ringed seal gets is name from the ring pattern on its fur; in the scientific community the species is named Pusa hispida from the family Phocidae (the true seals or earless seals) and Inuit call them Natsiq or Nattiq.

The ringed seal has been a part of the Arctic ecosystem for millennia. They live primarily in the sea but are strongly associated with the sea ice. In fact, they maintain breathing holes called allu or aglu, which allow them to survive in ice covered waters. They are the most common seal in the Arctic and have a wide circumpolar distribution.

Natsiq are the smallest species of seal, adults weigh about 60-70 kg and usually do not grow to lengths of more than 1.5-1.6 meters. They can live up to 40 years or more. This species is well adapted to the cold, wet environment. A thick layer of blubber beneath their skin insulates against frigid water temperatures, and blood with a high oxygen carrying capacity enables them to dive for extended periods when foraging for food.

Ringed seal have a varied diet of fish and invertebrates, but the main prey includes Arctic and polar cod, shrimp, and mysids (shrimp like crustations). When feeding they can dive to depths as much as 45 meters for periods lasting as much as 30 minutes. During the open water season, ringed seals will feed intensively in order to replenish fat reserves.

At freeze up, adults will move to areas with stable ice in order to establish territories for breeding. Females reach sexual maturity at about 4 years of age, while males do not become mature until they approximately 7 years old. Breeding occurs during the late spring, around the time that pups are weaned. Gestation is 10-11 months long and females give birth to one pup in birth caves called subnivean lairs. The females build the lair in drifted snow that has accumulated above breathing holes they have maintained in areas of stable ice. The lairs offer some protection from the elements and predators, but lairs with thicker snow roofs offer greater protection. The pups are weaned off their mother’s milk after 6 weeks, usually just prior to ice breakup. Once the pups are weaned and the mating season has passed, seals will start their molt around June. During this time they haul out on ice to bask in the sun.

 

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