There are two species of seal resident in the U.K. and most of those live around the Scottish coast and islands. These are the grey seal and the common or harbour seal.
Other breeds of seal do make occasional visits to Scottish waters and, although no accurate figures are kept, it is thought these incidents are becoming more frequent as several injured non-native seals have turned up at sanctuaries in the last few years. These have included bearded, harp, hooded and ringed seals as well as the odd walrus.
This could be due to changes in sea temperature, diminishing food sources forcing seals to hunt further afield or disturbance from marine fish farms.
Our largest native seal is the grey seal (Halichoerus grypus). Its smaller resident cousin is the common seal (Phoca vitulina).
Male grey seals can grow to 3.3m long and weigh up to 315kg. Females average 2.5m and reach 200kg. However, as with many species, the females usually outlive the male. Grey seal females can live as long as 46 years while bulls are lucky if they see 35.
Common seal males can reach 1.85m in length and tip the scales at 105kg while females are about ten centimetres shorter and twenty kilos lighter. Like the greys it is the female common seal which is likely to outlive the male with a maximum lifespan of around 25 to 30 years.
Apart from size you can distinguish between grey and common seals by the shape of their heads and faces. The grey seal has a prominent "roman" nose with nostrils which are fairly wide apart. The common seal has a rounder, flatter face with narrower nostrils. When you see a common seal's head as it swims towards you, you might mistake it for a large dog.
If you listen to fishermen's' tales, you might think there are millions of seals and that they produce vast litters of pups every year. In fact seals only produce one pup a year with greys giving birth between September and December and commons during the summer months of May to July. Seal numbers are recovering from years of human persecution and the first seal virus epidemic of 1988.
page 1 2