Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The Rare & Elusive Harboreal Seal

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In the Field

The Rare and Elusive Harboreal Seal. Undisclosed location in Great Bear Rainforest (somewhere on northern BC Coast), BC, Canada. October 2, 2011.

While the artistic merits of this image may be debated, its uniqueness definitely wins out and ensures the image will never be found in my trash bin. As I write this entry in mid-November of 2011 media enquiries from around the globe to use this image in various print and online publications are already pouring in...

You are looking at what may be the ONLY image in existence of the very rare and highly elusive Harboreal Seal. Once thought to be simply a sub-species of the common and widespread Harbor Seal, recent DNA and observational evidence has pointed it to being a unique species (and will likely end up with the latin name "Phoca arborealis"). This species is totally absent from the fossil record and until a small, relict population was recently found in the region of the rugged BC coast known as the Great Bear Rainforest its very existence was in dispute (and it was considered by some to be only mythical, not unlike the Sasquatch).

Information about the Harboreal Seal is as patchy as their luxuriant coat. They appear to be relatively poor swimmers and this specimen seemed to be stranded on a large stump (on what could be its nest) by an unusually high tide. Their highly modified flippers show several modifications for their arboreal lifestyle - not only are the flippers elongated to almost the length of an arm (unfortunately not visible in this shot), but they also have greatly enlarged claws, which presumably assist in the climbing of trees. Scat analyses have shown even more evidence of their divergence from the Harbor Seal - they rarely, if ever, eat fish and appear to subsist on a mixed diet of berries, squirrels, songbirds, and - oddly enough - hummingbirds. Hunting/foraging behaviour has never been observed, but the sight of a Harboreal Seal rapidly skittering through the branches of trees in hot pursuit of a hummingbird must be nothing short of an amazingly and jaw-dropping spectacle.

I will be returning to the Great Bear Rainforest in 2012 and beyond and will always be on the lookout for another opportunity to "bag" a photo of this fascinating product of countless millennia of evolutionary forces.

View this rare creature in higher resolution (2400 pixel) form:

The Rare & Elusive Harboreal Seal: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.5 MB)


NOTE 1: This image - in all resolutions - is protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of it (including use as desktop backgrounds or screensavers on your own computer), but unauthorized commercial use of the image is prohibited by law. Thanks in advance for respecting my copyright!

NOTE 2: Like all wildlife photographs on this website, this image was captured following the strict ethical guidelines described in The Wildlife FIRST! Principles of Photographer Conduct. I encourage all wildlife photographers to always put the welfare of their subjects above the value of their photographs.

NOTE 3: This image was captured during one of my "Into the Great Bear Rainforest" photo tours in the autumn of 2011. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph aquatic mammals and oceanscapes near the northern tip of Vancouver Island. And, in selected years, I also offer photo tours to locations to capture other highly sought-after subjects, such as various owl species of the boreal forest and wildlife of Canada's Arctic. Details about these trips can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website.

Behind the Camera

The Rare and Elusive Harboreal Seal. Undisclosed location in Great Bear Rainforest (somewhere on northern BC Coast), BC, Canada. October 2, 2011.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 2000.

Nikon D3s with Nikkor 400mm f2.8G VR lens - hand-held from a floating Zodiac. VR on and in "Normal" mode.

1/320s @ f5; -0.33 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The Rare and Elusive Harboreal Seal. Undisclosed location in Great Bear Rainforest (somewhere on northern BC Coast), BC, Canada. October 2, 2011.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening using Phase One's Capture One Pro 6. Three exposure variants covering a 1.5 stop total range.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CS5 and Light Craft's LightZone. Photoshop adjustments including compositing (layering and masking) the exposure variants, selective colour saturation and desaturation, and selective sharpening for web output. Final contrast/tone tweaking - to body of the Harboreal Seal - performed with LightZone using the tonemapper/re-light tool.


The Rare and Elusive Harboreal Seal. Undisclosed location in Great Bear Rainforest (somewhere on northern BC Coast), BC, Canada. October 2, 2011.

Ten percent of the revenue generated by this image will be donated to Raincoast*.

Species Status in Canada**: Currently under vigorous debate.

The scientific community is currently split on the status (and very existence) of the newly discovered Harboreal Seal (Phoca arborealis). As such, its listing (in terms of conservation status) remains unclear. There is hope the debate will soon be resolved and its conservation status will be decided shortly thereafter.

*The Raincoast Conservation Society (and Foundation) is an effective and efficient organization that has been fighting for protection of this unique habitat. If you are looking for a meaningful way to contribute to the conservation of this amazing ecosystem, Raincoast will provide maximal "bang" for your conservation dollars.

**as determined by COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada