Elusive ribbon seal makes a rare appearance in the lower 48

October 11, 2016, 7:12 a.m.
Ribbon seal (Histriophoca fasciata)
Photo: NOAA

An Arctic animal that typically spends its days lounging on pack ice came ashore on the comparatively balmy southern coast of Washington this summer. Wildlife enthusiasts were treated to a rare sighting of a ribbon seal (Histriophoca fasciata) ambling along the state's Long Beach Peninsula in August.

A rare ribbon seal sighting in southern Washington.This photo (seen at right) of the black-and-white striped pinniped was captured by an employee of NOAA, who reported that the seal appeared to be in good health and was last seen making its way safely back into the waves. The last time a ribbon seal was spotted this far south in Washington was back in 2012.

While these gorgeous animals are considered a rare sight in places like Washington state, that shouldn't be taken to mean they're endangered. In fact, unlike some of their cousins (such the Hawaiian monk seal), the ribbon seal is listed as "least concern" by the IUCN.

The reason this recent sighting is considered "rare" is because members of this species spend most of their lives in the icy open waters of the North Pacific Ocean, specifically in the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. These remote waterscapes are filled with seemingly endless miles of ice floes and few humans. Because of this inaccessibility, there's still a lot we don't know about ribbon seals.

According to NOAA, "ribbon seals are hard to study because of the amount of time spend floating on pack ice and in open water, away from land. Luckily, this also makes it harder for predators to prey on them. We know that ribbon seals stay close to the pack ice, but after most of the pack ice has melted, the ribbon seals are believed to be in the open sea."