Grey seal

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 parallel slits. This cannot be confused with the common seal whose nostrils nearly touch in a V-shape and whose muzzle is shorter and head rounded.
When hauled out of the water and seen at a distance grey seals are often close together, even touching each other; although a single grey may be seen in a dispersed group of commons. In general, it is a large seal and males are nearly twice the size of females.

Grey seals can be seen throughout the year. At low tide they are visible on the shoreline or on exposed offshore rocks.

Female seals return to their pupping areas, between September and November; where a single pup (14kgs) is born, above the high tide mark. They give birth on exposed rocks or gravel and the newborn youngster cannot swim; after 16-18 days the pup weighs 45kgs. The female stops lactating, comes into oestrus, is mated and then abandons the pup.

They pup over a much longer season than common seals and use places that are only accessible from the sea, colonies are found on isolated shorelines or on islands.

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

These seals expose their head and shoulders while taking a breath, before diving to hunt for fish. They can stay underwater hunting for periods of up to 20 minutes.

Look out for single seals, which are accustomed to scavenging for scraps around a local fishing trawler, processing their catch, in a small harbour.

At sea, grey seals can sleep in a vertical position, with their head uppermost.Grey seals have a delayed implantation of their embryos and it is 4 months, before the 7 months gestation period begins.

Common seal

Common seal

Phoca vitulina

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 ...



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...