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Time of the baby seal

Apr 30, 2024

A ringed seal pup peeks out from its partially collapsed snow cave near Kotzebue, Alaska. (Michael Cameron/NOAA)

As Alaskans plan their summer schedules and stow away their winter gear, a familiar scene unfolds: collective grumbling at the arrival of wet spring snow. Most people living in Northern Latitudes are tired of the cold by the time it’s April, but Mother Nature doesn’t seem to care. 

However, there is a silver lining to this type of spring precipitation, as the traditional Inuit calendar reminds us. The big, wet snowflakes are integral to the marine ecosystem and sustain one of the world’s most adorable pinnipeds– baby seals. Thus, this type of spring snow signals the “the time of the baby seal,” or “season of the seal pups.”

Baby seals heavily depend on their mothers’ rich milk for survival, but they face a unique challenge: they are too chubby and young to join their mothers on hunting expeditions. When the adults dive deep into the frigid water to search for fish, the baby seals must remain on the sea ice, sometimes left alone for hours. 

Therefore, it’s said that as we begrudgingly shovel our driveways one last time, our hearts can be warmed by remembering that the same snow that inconveniences us also aids vulnerable young animals. The baby seals can lick the large flakes that fall surround them, staying hydrated as they eagerly anticipate their mothers’ return.

This story was shared by Joni Kitmiiq Spiess, who is AOOS’s Community Engagement Coordinator.

A graphical depiction of an Inuit calendar (Beauregard, 2011).