JMBA2 - Biodiversity Records
First records of hooded seals (Cystophora cristata) in the
J.J. Bellido*†‡, J.J. Castillo*, M.A. Farfán†, J.J. Martín*, J.L. Mons* and R. Real†
*Centro de Recuperación de Especies Marinas Amenazadas, CREMA, Junta de Andalucía, Aula del Mar de Málaga, Avda. M. Heredia, 35 29001,
Málaga, Spain. †Departamento de Biología Animal, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Málaga,. E-29071 Málaga, Spain.
‡Corresponding author, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The hooded seal (Cystophora cristata,
Erxleben 1777) lives in the Atlantic region
of the Arctic Ocean and in high latitudes
of the North Atlantic Ocean. Its range
extends from the Bear Islands, off the west
coast of Norway, to the Labrador Peninsula,
including Iceland, Jan Mayen Island and
Greenland. The limits of its distribution area
are related to the thickness of the Arctic
ice layer and usually coincide with the limit
of the sub-arctic waters (Kovacs & Lavigne,
1986; Jefferson et al 1993).
Hooded seals pass most part of the
year in solitary and they group only for
reproduction (Nowak, 1991). Young hooded
seals are born between March and April.
The breast-feeding period for this species
is the shortest of all mammals, going on
for only four days (Jefferson et al., 1993). In
this brief period of time the young hooded
seals gain 20 kg, doubling their weight at
the end of the breast-feeding period. After
weaning, the young hooded seals spread out,
although information on their behaviour
and destination is scarce.
This species carries out long migratory
movements, usually inside the above
mentioned range limits, to moult, feed,
reproduce and give birth. However, there
are diverse data about individuals observed
in remote areas such as Alaska, California, or
the Canary Islands (Nowak, 1991; Jefferson
et al., 1993 ).
Van Bree (1997a,b) reported an important
increase in the number of hooded seal
stranded on the western coast of Europe
(from the north of Denmark to the south
of Spain) since the 1970s. Although 34
individuals have been registered in this area
between the years 1978 and 1996 (Van
No. LocalityProvinceDateType of Event ConditionInstitution
Castell de Ferro
Cabo de Gata
14 November 1996
06 September 1999
25 September 1999
23 August 2001
28 October 2001
06 August 2006
09 August 2006
06 August 2006
07 August 2006
12 August 2006
13 August 2006
15 August 2006
EBDI, Estación Biológica de Doñana.
Table 1. List of individuals of hooded seal detected on the Andalusian coast and Melilla between 1996
and 2006. We show the type of event (stranding or sighting) and the institution which detected and took
care of the individual. In cases 1, 8 and 14 there is no specific date because the individuals were sighted
several times during the indicated month.
Figure 1. Distribution of strandings and sightings of hooded seal individuals detected by CREMA
between 1996 and 2006. The numbers coincide with the data shown in Table 1.
Between the years 1996 and 2006 the Threatened Marine Species Recovery Center (CREMA)
detected 14 strandings and sightings of hooded seals in the coasts surrounding the Strait of Gibraltar.
Five strandings and the only three sightings occurred on the Spanish coasts of the Mediterranean
Sea. CREMA or its stranding report network did not deal directly with the stranded or sighted
individuals but there were good descriptions and photographs to confirm identification. The
frequency of stranding and sighting of hooded seal individuals on the southern coast of Spain indicate
that the migratory movements of this species are performed by groups of young animals less than
one year old.
J.J. Bellido et al. First records of hooded seals in the Mediterranean Sea
JMBA2 - Biodiversity Records
Bree, 1997a), the presence of this species on the
western European coast is a rare phenomenon,
especially in the case of adults (Derix & Van Bree,
1997). In the Iberian Peninsula some hooded seals
have been detected in Portugal, Galicia (Castells
& Mayo, 1993), Huelva (Ibáñez et al., 1988; Avellá
et al., 1993), Cádiz (Avellá et al., 1993), and some
areas near the Straits of Gibraltar. However,
there is no previous report of the presence of
this species in the Mediterranean Sea.
Between the years 1996 and 2006 the
Threatened Marine Species Recovery Center
(CREMA) detected 14 strandings and sightings
of hooded seals on the coasts surrounding
the Strait of Gibraltar (Table 1, Figure 1). Five
strandings and the only three sightings occurred
on the Spanish coasts of the Mediterranean Sea.
All the reported data were confirmed. When
CREMA or its stranding report network did
not deal directly with the stranded or sighted
individuals, there were good descriptions and
photographs that allowed us to identify the
Figure 1 shows that the species has been detected in different regions of the Spanish Mediterranean
coast. There is no report of stranding or sighting of hooded seals east of the Gata cape. That is why
we think that the Alboran Sea is the present limit of the sporadic incursion of this species in the
The finding of an individual in Melilla suggests that the species is likely distributed in a similar way
on both coasts of the Alboran Sea, though there are no data to confirm this point.
In every case, the body length of the registered individuals was around 1 m and the body weight
fluctuated between 20 and 25 kg, that is to say, they were young individuals born in the same year.
This fact was confirmed by their fur colour, with grey and blue back and light abdomen (Castells &
Mayo, 1993) (Figure 2).
Most of the individuals previously detected near the Strait of Gibraltar were young. Only an adult
pregnant female was detected in Huelva (Ibáñez et al., 1988).
The frequency of stranding and sighting of hooded seal individuals on the southern coast of Spain
indicate that the migratory movements of this species are performed by groups of young animals
less than one year old. In addition, the detection of individuals in this area followed a discontinuous
temporal pattern; reports of the species occurred in 1983 (Ibáñez et al., 1988, Avellá et al., 1993),
1990 (Avellá et al., 1993, Van Bree, 1997a), and in 1996, 1999, 2001 and 2006 (CREMA). This suggests
that an unknown reason periodically contributes to the arrival of young hooded seals to these
Avella, F., Castells, A. & Mayo, M., 1993. Los pinnípedos de las costas atlánticas y cantábricas de la península
Ibérica. Quercus, 85, 29–34.
Castells, A. & Mayo, M., 1993. Guía de los mamíferos en libertad de España y Portugal. Madrid: Ediciones Pirámide.
Derix, R.R.W.M. & Van Bree, P.J.H., 1997. On two recent life-strandings of adult hooded seals (Cystophora cristata
Erxleben, 1777) on the West European continental coast. Mammalia, 61, 631–633.
Ibáñez C., Delibes J., Martín R. & Beltrán J.F., 1988. An unusual record of hooded seal (Cystophora cristata) in
SW Spain. Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde, 53, 189–190.
Jefferson T., Leatherwood S. & Webber M., 1993. Marine mammals of the world. FAO Species Identification Guide.
United Nations Programme Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Kovacs K.M. & Lavigne D.M., 1986. Cystophora cristata. Mammalian Species, 258, 1–9.
Nowak R. 1991. Mammals of the World. Fifth Edition. Volume II. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University
Van Bree, P.J.H., 1997a. On extralimital records of Hooded seals, Cystophora cristata (Erxleben, 1777), on the
western European continental coast. Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde, 62, 182–186.
Van Bree, P.J.H., 1997b. On extralimital records of Artic seals (Mammalia, Pinnipedia) on the western European
continental coast in the past and in the present—a summary. Beaufortia, 47, No. 5.
Submitted 2 March 2007. Accepted 21 June 2007.
Figure 2. Young individual of a hooded seal admitted to CREMA.