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Grey Seal

Latin Name: Halichoerus grypus

aka  Atlantic Grey Seal and

     Horsehead Seal

Half of the worlds population of grey seals are to be found off the coast of Britain. Numbers have doubled since 1960. It is estimated that 120,000 seals are around the coasts of the UK.

It is the typical seal seen off the northern and western coasts of Britain and Ireland.

They breed in several colonies on and around the coasts, notably large colonies are on the Farne Islands off Northumberland (about 6,000 animals), North Rona, the Monarch Islands and the Isle of May off the north coast of Scotland, Lambay Island off the coast of Dublin and Ramsey Island off the coast of Pembrokeshire.

They can be seen in their breeding colonies from September in West Wales, October in Western Scotland, as late as November in the Farne Islands and November and December at Donna Nook in Lincolnshire. They are protected by law during their breeding season which is from 1st September to December 31st. The best time to see them is when the tide is out.

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Males are larger than females have broad shoulders and an elongated snout with heavy muzzle. Females have a less rounded profile and thinner snout. Vary in colour from dark brown to grey or black with blotches with the females generally being paler.

Animal Facts

In Britain: Around the costs particularly during the breeding season off North Scotland, Cornwall, east coast of England, South Wales and Ireland.

Life Span: Males up to 25 years, Females 35 years.

Statistics: Males 210cm long and weight 230kg,  Females are 180cm long and weigh 155kg

Habitat: Live in water but come ashore to breed on exposed rocky shores.

Food: Fish mainly but will feed on crustaceans, squid and octopus. Sand eels are also an important part of their diet in many localities. Average daily food requirements is 5kg, although they do not feed everyday.

Breeding: Females reach sexual maturity at 3.5 years and males 4-6 years. Gestation period 11.5 months, this includes a 3 month delay in the implantation of the fertilised egg. Pups are born in autumn (September-November) in the Eastern Atlantic, and January-February in the west. They are born with a white coat and weigh about 15kg, they gain about 2kg a day due to the high fat content of the mothers milk. They suckle for 3 months, the female mates again and leaves the breeding area (known as a rookery).

Conservation Status

Least Concern

Distribution: North Atlantic Ocean and all round the British Coast. The largest populations found on the Farne Islands, the Cornish Coast and Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland.

Behaviour: Females arrive at breeding sites first, males compete for space nearest the females with the oldest males generally getting the better positions, little fighting takes place. Pups cannot swim for their first 4 weeks. Favourite haul out sites include inaccessible islands, coves and caves.

Conservation Status: Protected by the Conservation of Seals Act. The Northeast Atlantic sub-populations is considered to be endangered.


See Also





Our Location Guides

Farne Islands, Northumberland

Blakeney Point, Norfolk

Donna Nook, Lincolnshire

National Seal Sanctuary, Gweek, Cornwall

Seal Sands Yorkshire

Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire

Skokholm, Pembrokeshire

Ramsey Island, Pembrokeshire


By: Tracey Park Section: Wildlife Key:
Page Ref: grey_seal Topic:  Seals  Last Updated: 03/2010

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