Colour extremely variable. Rounded head, which is small in relation to body. V-shaped nostrils that almost meet at bottom. Head is more blunt and puppy-like than grey seal. Often adopts characteristic ‘head up, tail up’ position when hauled out. Large male adult common seals can be up to 1.8m in length.
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Found around most the British Isles, often across west coast of Scotland and on east coast of England, particularly south-east, with few found along the west coast of England. (Maps are based on expert advice, as of 2007. Some species ranges may have changed in the time since. We are currently in the process of updating the maps.)
Opportunistic feeders. Variety of prey, including sand eels, gadoids (e.g. cod and whiting), clupeids (herring and sprat) and cephalopods (octopus and squid). Differences found in different regions.
Females can live to 30 years, males unlikely to survive past 20 years.
Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus)
Long, straight muzzle, compared to shorter rounded muzzle of common seal. Nostrils almost parallel and set further apart than common seal, which has v-shaped nostrils set closer together.
Richard Thompson, Centre Manager at RSPCA Mallydams Wood Wildlife Centre, says:
“Both species of seal; common and grey, are frequently seen in the coastal waters of the South East. However, those found sick, orphaned and injured are taken into the wildlife rehabilitation centre and treated throughout the year. When released, they are flipper tagged and records of their movement has been reported along the south coast to Dorset and North to Norfolk, but also reports in Netherlands, France and Belgium.”
The Zoological Society of London’s seal work
The Thames Estuary is home to harbour seals, also known as ‘common seals’, and grey seals, but they are some of the least understood seal populations in the country. ZSL is using seal telemetry (tagging), annual population surveys and a public marine mammal sighting survey to gather data to better inform conservation and management in the South East. Find out more about their projects here.