Common seal

Also known as the harbour seal, the common seal is one of two seal species found around the coastline: the two key field identification points are its relatively short rounded muzzle. When seen in profile “hauled out” on land and when seen face on in the water, their closed nostrils nearly touch in a V-shape that cannot be confused with the grey seal whose closed nostrils have almost parallel slits, and whose muzzle is deeper and longer.

When hauled out of the water and seen at a distance common seals are distinct. They prefer to keep their distance from other seals. Often rest on their side with their back flippers off the ground in a “banana-shaped” outline. In general, close up they have smaller spots then grey seals, but this can be difficult to see during the moult (June –September).

At periods, when the tide is out or at least low, resting animals are visible on the shoreline or on exposed offshore rocks. They often have different haul out sites; one where their young are reared in June; the other a home range haul up site, where they spend most of their year.  At sea, from a boat, animals may be glimpsed taking a breath, before diving to hunt for fish. They usually stay underwater hunting for periods of between three to eight minutes and can continue doing this for several hours.

Abundant around the coast, but in particular they are found on the West Coast, the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland.

Although common seals are distributed around the Northern Hemisphere, they are not the most numerous seal in Scottish waters. Female seals give birth to a single pup at low tide, on exposed rocks or sandbanks and the newborn youngsters must be able to swim, within 6 hours.

Grey seal

Grey seal

Halichoerus grypus

The larger of the two seals found around the British coastline. Two key field identification points are its relatively deep, long muzzle when seen in profile “hauled out” on land, and when seen face-on in the water their closed nostrils with almost...



Lutra lutra

Otters are highly adapted aquatic hunters, who are related to badger and pine marten, and are one of the most eagerly sought, yet elusive mammals in Scotland. They are usually a shade of light brown, which can look darker when wet. They have a streamli...