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Seal humor

Most Pacific harbor seals live in the ocean, but there is a group in Alaska that swam 50 miles up the Kvichak River (pronounced QUEE-jak) and now live in a lake.

That lake is Iliamna, the largest lake in Alaska, and the second largest freshwater lake in the entire United States. The largest is Lake Michigan.

Eighty miles long and 25 miles wide, Iliamna Lake covers 1,150 square miles. It has several islands and there are few humans around, making it a good place for the seals to live. Plus, there are lots of different fish for them to eat, including one of the largest sockeye salmon runs in the world.

Salmon are born in fresh water but swim to the sea to grow up. After they become adults, they swim back upstream to spawn in the same rivers and creeks where they were born.

The seals must like the lake because they’ve stayed for many years, not even bothering to swim back to the ocean. Now there are about 400 of them living in the lake.

Scientists can tell the seals are staying in the lake by looking at a dead seal’s canine tooth. Chemicals in the tooth show where the seals have lived.

Harbor seals can grow up to 6 feet long and weigh 300 pounds. They have spotted fur that can be gray, white, black or dark brown.

In the Pacific Ocean, harbor seals can be found from Alaska all the way south to Mexico. They spend about half their time in the water where they can dive 1,500 feet deep and stay underwater for 40 minutes. They can even sleep in the water.

There are rumors of a monster living in Iliamna Lake. Could it be a big harbor seal?

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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Montana Untamed Editor

Montana Untamed editor for the Billings Gazette.