Harbour Seal (Common Seal) – Phoca vitulina
Common seal pups used to be hunted for their skins, particularly in Shetland and in the Wash. This probably over-exploited populations in some areas and led to the seals being protected in 1970. There is continuing controversy over the impact that seals might have on fish stocks although, in Britain, grey seals have received more blame from fishermen than common seals.
Seals are at the top of the food chain and so tend to accumulate pollutants such as heavy metals and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) which are persistent in the environment. Female common seals feeding on fish with high levels of PCBs may fail to breed and pollution could thus hinder the recovery of some populations which have been reduced by disease.
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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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.