Here is the mammal that is most likely to be seen by a visitor to coastal British Columbia. Curious, sleek, and so at home in the water, Harbour seals have always intrigued us land mammals.

But put them ashore, and they become almost comical. Their sleek, streamlined bodies lie on exposed rocks like great perogies, touching the ground only at their midsections. Unlike sea lions, Harbour Seals cannot move themselves on land using their flippers, so they do a sort of a hop-flop to get back to the water.

Male Harbour Seals may weigh 140 kilograms, and the females a little more than half of that. They are very variable in colour, with the most common pattern a buff colour with darker spots. A single pup is born in early summer, and is often left alone on shore for considerable periods; these animals should be left alone, for the mother will return.

Harbour Seal numbers are increasing since a ban on their control as fisheries pests. They are very clever at removing fish from nets, and more than one salmon fisher has reeled in less than a complete prize.

Harbour Seals are commonly seen on or near the ocean, their round heads and whiskers just above the surface. Watch for them on offshore rocks, where they may gather in large numbers to loaf and sleep. Their varied pelage blends well with the rocky substrate, so a careful look may reward the viewer.