Overview

Distribution

occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Western North America, from the central-west coast of Baja, Mexico to the Aleutian Islands, Alaska (Shaughnessy and Fay 1977).

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Physical Description

Diagnostic Description

Distinguished from P. (VITULINA) LARGHA by: 1. Ecological habits - LARGHA is primarily associated with the ice pack, P. V. RICHARDSI is coastal. 2. Color - LARGHA is primarily pale with small blackish spots; Richardsi has two phases (pale and dark) the pale phase differiented by usually having some whitish rings on the back. 3. Cranial measurements - RICHARDSI skulls tend to be broader and more massive than LARGHA skulls with mostly obliquely-set premolars (LARGHA premolars are mostly straight-set). The length of the nasal-premaxillary contact is mostly less than 3 mm in RICHARDSI and greater than 3 mm in LARGHA (Shaughnessy and Fay 1977).

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Type Information

Type for Phoca vitulina richardii
Catalog Number: USNM 83223
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Mammals
Sex/Stage: Female; Adult
Preparation: Skin; Skull; Skeleton
Collector(s): C. Townsend
Locality: Saint Paul Island, Pribilof Islands, Alaska, United States, Bering Sea, North America, North Pacific Ocean
  • Type: Allen, J. A. 1902. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. 16: 495.
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Type for Phoca vitulina richardii
Catalog Number: USNM A3648
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Mammals
Sex/Stage: Unknown; Young adult
Preparation: Skull
Collector(s): Collector Unknown
Locality: Deception Island, South Shetland Islands, Weddell Sea, South Atlantic Ocean
  • Type: Peale, T. R. 1848. Mammalia and Ornithology. United States Exploring Expedition during the years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842 under the command of Charles Wilkes, U.S.N. 8: 30, pl. 31.
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Type for Phoca vitulina richardii
Catalog Number: USNM 81520
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Mammals
Sex/Stage: Male; Adult
Preparation: Skin; Skull
Collector(s): A. Anthony
Year Collected: 1896
Locality: San Geronimo Island [= Isla San Jeronimo], Baja California, Mexico, North America, North Pacific Ocean
  • Type: Allen, J. A. 12 Dec 1902 . Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. 16: 495.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat Type: Marine

Comments: See record for P. VITULINA.

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Stellwagen Bank Pelagic Community

 

The species associated with this page are major players in the pelagic ecosystem of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Stellwagen Bank is an undersea gravel and sand deposit stretching between Cape Cod and Cape Ann off the coast of Massachussets. Protected since 1993 as the region’s first National Marine Sanctuary, the bank is known primarily for whale-watching and commercial fishing of cod, lobster, hake, and other species (Eldredge 1993). 

Massachusetts Bay, and Stellwagen Bank in particular, show a marked concentration of biodiversity in comparison to the broader coastal North Atlantic. This diversity is supported from the bottom of the food chain. The pattern of currents and bathymetry in the area support high levels of phytoplankton productivity, which in turn support dense populations of schooling fish such as sand lance, herring, and mackerel, all important prey for larger fish, mammals, and seabirds (NOAA 2010). Sightings of many species of whales and seabirds are best predicted by spatial and temporal distribution of prey species (Jiang et al 2007; NOAA 2010), providing support for the theory that the region’s diversity is productivity-driven.

Stellwagen Bank is utilized as a significant migration stopover point for many species of shorebird. Summer visitors include Wilson’s storm-petrel, shearwaters, Arctic terns, and red phalaropes, while winter visitors include black-legged kittiwakes, great cormorants, Atlantic puffins, and razorbills. Various cormorants and gulls, the common murre, and the common eider all form significant breeding colonies in the sanctuary as well (NOAA 2010). The community of locally-breeding birds in particular is adversely affected by human activity. As land use along the shore changes and fishing activity increases, the prevalence of garbage and detritus favors gulls, especially herring and black-backed gulls. As gull survivorship increases, gulls begin to dominate competition for nesting sites, to the detriment of other species (NOAA 2010). 

In addition to various other cetaceans and pinnipeds, the world’s only remaining population of North Atlantic right whales summers in the Stellwagen Bank sanctuary. Right whales and other baleen whales feed on the abundant copepods and phytoplankton of the region, while toothed whales, pinnipeds, and belugas feed on fish and cephalopods (NOAA 2010). The greatest direct threats to cetaceans in the sanctuary are entanglement with fishing gear and death by vessel strikes (NOAA 2010), but a growing body of evidence suggests that noise pollution harms marine mammals by masking their acoustic communication and damaging their hearing (Clark et al 2009).

General threats to the ecosystem as a whole include overfishing and environmental contaminants. Fishing pressure in the Gulf of Maine area has three negative effects. First and most obviously, it reduces the abundance of fish species, harming both the fish and all organisms dependent on the fish as food sources. Secondly, human preference for large fish disproportionately damages the resilience of fish populations, as large females produce more abundant, higher quality eggs than small females. Third, by preferentially catching large fish, humans have exerted an intense selective pressure on food fish species for smaller body size. This extreme selective pressure has caused a selective sweep, diminishing the variation in gene pools of many commercial fisheries (NOAA 2010). While the waters of the SBNMS are significantly cleaner than Massachusetts Bay as a whole, elevated levels of PCBs have been measured in cetaceans and seabird eggs (NOAA 2010). Additionally, iron and copper leaching from the contaminated sediments of Boston Harbor occasionally reach the preserve (Li et al 2010). 


  • Clark CW, Ellison WT, Southall BL, Hatch L, Van Parijs SM, Frankel A, Ponirakis D. 2009. Acoustic masking in marine ecosystems: intuitions, analysis and implication. Inter-Research Marine Ecology Progress Series 395:201-222.
  • Eldredge, Maureen. 1993. Stellwagen Bank: New England’s first sanctuary. Oceanus 36:72.
  • Jiang M, Brown MW, Turner JT, Kenney RD, Mayo CA, Zhang Z, Zhou M. Springtime transport and retention of Calanus finmarchicus in Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays, USA, and implications for right whale foraging. Marine Ecology 349:183-197.
  • Li L, Pala F, Mingshun J, Krahforst C, Wallace G. 2010. Three-dimensional modeling of Cu and Pb distributions in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays. Estuarine Coastal & Shelf Science. 88:450-463.
  • National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration. 2010. Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctary Final Management Plan and Environmental Assessment. “Section IV: Resource States” pp. 51-143. http://stellwagen.noaa.gov/management/fmp/pdfs/sbnms_fmp2010_lo.pdf
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Migration

Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300

Comments: Hundreds of haulouts.

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Global Abundance

10,000 to >1,000,000 individuals

Comments: See record for P. VITULINA.

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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: T5 - Secure

Reasons: Large range in the North Pacific Ocean; recent precipitous decline in some populations, steady increases in others; suspected threats include food shortages resulting from local fisheries management practices, incidental and intentional take, disease and entanglement in marine debris.

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Threats

Degree of Threat: B : Moderately threatened throughout its range, communities provide natural resources that when exploited alter the composition and structure of the community over the long-term, but are apparently recoverable

Comments: See record for P. VITULINA.

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Management

Biological Research Needs: Current research needs include: 1. Range-wide monitoring of population abundance and trends in harbor seals and other sympatric marine mammals. 2. Analysis of the potential causes of population declines including competition for food with commercial fisheries, incidental and intentional take, disease, toxic substances, entanglement in marine debris, and disturbance 3. Regional research on global atmospheric and oceanic changes and their impacts on marine ecosystems, particularly in the Bering Sea. 4. Long-term viability and recovery studies.

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Global Protection: Many to very many (13 to >40) occurrences appropriately protected and managed

Needs: Minimize all incidental take and disturbance. Eliminate drift-net fisheries that occur in seal feeding and movement areas. Regulate fisheries take of fish resources known to be important to the maintenance of healthy seal populations.

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Because geographic variation appears to be clinal, nominal subspecies of harbor seals in the North Pacific are of dubious validity (Reeves et al. 1992).

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