Some fortunate marine scientists enjoyed a special surprise last August when they were in the right place at the right time. One of the world's most reclusive sea creatures decided to surface and spend some time on land. If he thought he could be subtle about it, however, his coat quickly said otherwise.
The rare sighting was of a ribbon seal, an elusive marine mammal and the least understood of all species of seals. While many seals, scubas the harbor seal, spend time out of the water to raise their pups, ribbon seals are more often in the water than not. This explains both their unique coat pattern — which provides camouflage from predators — and their elusiveness.
Ribbon seals have stunningly beautiful coats with distinctive bands of black and white. Most have rings of white around their necks and tails, with two circular patterns along their sides.
Their habitat is primarily between Alaska and Russia, although they occasionally swim farther south.
The ribbon seal population is roughly 400,000, so they're not rare, but actually seeing one is. Little is known about them, and they are considered a vulnerable species.
This particular ribbon seal was spotted on Washington State's Long Beach Peninsula. Staff from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries were able to take some photos before the seal returned to the sea — a lucky catch, because ribbon seals spend so little time out of the water.
Want to learn more about ribbon seals? Check out The Center for Biological Diversity, Scientific American, and Voices in the Sea for more information.