Abstract Phocine herpesvirus-1 (PhHV-1) causes regular outbreaks of disease in neonatal harbor seals ( Phoca vitulina) at rehabilitation centers in Europe and in the U.S. To investigate transmission of this virus samples were collected from harbor seal pups during exposure studies at a Californian rehabilitation center from 1999 to 2002 and from free-ranging harbor seals off central California during the same period. The exposure studies provided evidence that PhHV-1 can be transmitted horizontally between animals most likely through direct contact with oro-nasal secretions. However vertical transmission may also occur, as adult female harbor seals were found to be shedding the virus in vaginal and nasal secretions, and premature newborn pups had evidence of early infection. Results also indicated that PhHV-1 infections were common in both free-ranging (40%, 49/121) and rehabilitating (54%, 46/85) young harbor seals, during the spring and early summer. This timing, which correlated with pupping and weaning, suggested that the majority of animals were infected and infective with PhHV-1 between pupping and breeding.