aka Harbour Seal
Latin Name: Phoca Vitulina
Common seals are also known as Harbour Seals and
are found along temperate and arctic marine coastlines in the northern
hemisphere. They can be found in the coastal waters of the Northern Atlantic and
Pacific Oceans but also in the Baltic and North Seas. They generally stick to
rocky areas where land predators can't reach them so easily, and there is a
steady supply of fish. They have a fatty tissue called 'blubber' which keeps
them warm. Seal hunting which was once common practice is now mostly illegal.
There are 4 or 5 subspecies
Western Atlantic Harbor Seal in Eastern North America.
Ungava Seal in Eastern Canada, freshwater
Pacific Harbor Seal in Western North America.
Insular Seal in Eastern Asia.
Eastern Atlantic Common Seal of Europe and western Asia. They are one of the
most common seal in the world.
seen in Britain off the south eastern coasts. Seal tracks are commonly found on
mudflats and on sandy beaches. The current UK populations is estimated to be
around 30,000. The best time to see them is when the tide is out.
They vary in colour from
black, brown, grey or tan with darker patches, underparts are generally lighter.
Each pattern is unique to the individual. They have a rounded, spindle-shaped
body with a large head with short body and flippers. The nostrils are V-shaped and
there is no ear flap.
In Britain: Around the coast of Scotland,
particularly the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland, but mainly the east coast of
England in the Wash.
Life Span: Male 20-25 years, Females
Statistics: Males (Bulls) 1.4-1.9m long, weigh 55-170kg; Females
(Cows) 1.2-1.7m long and weigh 45-105kg
Habitat: the waters of the north Atlantic
and North Pacific oceans and on rocky outcrops and sandy environments.
Food: Fish, molluscs and crustaceans,
sandeels etc making short regular dives to less than 100m.
Breeding: Courtship and mating takes place
underwater. The females mating with the strongest male. Females have 1 pup and
are the sole carers, and will mate again after weaning which usually lasts 4-6
weeks. Gestation period 11 months. They give birth in June or July each year.
Distribution: Thought to be around 400,000-500,000 individuals in the
Behaviour: Opportunistic feeders. They will inhabit sea water and fresh
water, they don't tend to travel far from shore usually not more than 20km, but
can spend several days and sea and travel up to 50 km in search of feeding
grounds. They haul themselves out onto rocky shores, mud flats and sandy
beeches. Their predators are killer whales, polar bears and stellar sea lions,
and pups can fall victim to foxes and large birds of prey. Pups can crawl, swim
and dive within a few hours of birth. Males will fight for females underwater.
They are able to dive for up to 10 minutes and can reach depths of 1500ft, but
average dives are for about 3 minutes and 66ft. They do not form large groups
but can tolerate individuals within range. They have to spend a great deal of
time on shore when moulting, shortly after breeding. Common haul out sites
include sand banks, gently shelving rockey, single or sand beaches.
Conservation Status: They are not endangered, although in some places
their habitats have been and in these cases local populations have disappeared.
Their biggest risk is with fishermen feeling their are a threat to their
livelihood and becoming tangled in fishing nets and drowning. In the UK, Canada
and Norway it is illegal to shoot seals. It is also illegal to commercially hunt
Our Location Guides
Seal Sanctuary, Gweek, Cornwall
Lough, Northern Ireland