Commercial harvests of seals focus on two species, the harp seal and ring seal.
The industry plays an important role in parts of Canada, Greenland, and northern Europe, where populations of these species are abundant, but pressure from animal rights groups has resulted in restrictions in the trade of pelts. Notably, in the US, trade in seal skins, along with all other marine mammal products, is banned. Also banned is the formerly important harvesting of very young “whitecoat” harp seals.
Both harp and ring seals are “hair” seals, so called because their pelts are comprised entirely of short, shiny guard hairs, with no underfur. For insulation, they depend primarily on their blubber. The result is what is called “flat” fur, of which hair seal fur is the longest wearing of all, being much more durable than calf or antelope, for example. Because of the lack of underfur, hair seal fur is not as warm as “true” furs like mink. However, it provides good resistance to wind and rain.
Hair seal fur is used for vests, jackets, skirts and pants, and also for accessories such as purses and bags. It also takes dyes very well, though this treatment is normally reserved for lower grade pelts.
Other species of seal, such as the Cape fur seal, do have underfur. When used for clothing, the guard hairs are plucked and the underfur sheared to produce a soft, velvety “duvet”, much like preparing sheared beaver.