The OOGROOK or the BEARDED SEAL, also called the SQUARE FLIPPER SEAL, is a medium-sized pinniped that is found in and near to the Arctic Ocean. It gets its generic name from 2 Greek words (ERI and GNATHOS) that refer to its heavy jaw. The other part of its Linnaean name means BEARDED and refers to its most characteristic feature ——– the conspicuous and very abundant whiskers. When dry, these ‘whiskers’ curl very elegantly, giving the ‘bearded seal’ a “RAFFISH” look.
Distinguishing features of this ‘EARLESS SEAL’ include ‘square’ fore flippers and thick bristles on its muzzle. Adults are greyish-brown in colour, darker on the back or dark spots on the sides. Occasionally, the face and neck are reddish-brown. Bearded seal pups are born with a greyish-brown natal fur with scattered patches of white on the back and head. The Bearded Seal is unique in the sub-family PHOCINAE, in having 2 pairs of teats, a feature it shares with the MONK SEAL.
The Bearded Seal, along with the RINGED SEALS, are a major food source for polar bears. They are also an important food source for the Inuit of the Arctic Coast. The Inuit language name for the seal is OOGRUK. The Inuit preferred the RINGED SEAL for food and light —the meat would be eaten and the blubber burnt in the KUDLIK (stone lamp). The skin of the BEARDED SEAL is tougher than regular seal, and was used to make shoes, whips, dog-sled harnesses, to cover a wooden-frame boat —–the UMIAK, and in constructing summer tents —- known as TUPIQ. The body-fat content of a Bearded Seal is 30-40%.
Primarily, Bearded Seal feed on a variety of small prey, found along the ocean floor, including clams, squids and fish. Their whiskers serve as feelers in the soft bottom sediments. Adults tend not to dive very deep, favouring shallow coastal areas —- no more than 300 metres deep. Pups, up to one year old, however, will venture much deeper, diving as deep as 450m. Bearded Seals give birth in the spring. Pups are born on small ‘ice floes’ in shallow waters and they enter the water—- only hours after they are born. Natural predators are the polar bears. Killer whales also prey on these seals, sometimes overturning ‘ice floes’ to reach them. Walruses also eat these seals, mainly pups, but such predation is rare. Male Bearded Seals produce powerful calls called TRILLS to attract females. Individual males make distinctive ‘trills’ and ‘sequences of calls’ that are unique to each animal. It is an EERILY SPIRALLING CALL.