common seal

Common seal

Latin name: Phoca vitulina
Global Distribution: Northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Baltic and North Seas
UK Distribution: Scotland, particularly in the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland, and England in the Wash, also around Strangford Lough and in SW Ireland.
Size: 140-185cm including flippers of about 20cm
Diet: Wide variety of fish, including herring, sand eels, whiting and flatfish. Shrimps and squid are also sometimes eaten
Habitat: Coastal & marshland

Common seals are famous for laying in the sun, but adults can actually travel up to 50km from their favorite haul-out site in order to feed and may spend many days at sea, diving for up to 10 minutes at a time and reaching depths of 50 meters! Young seals are born in June and July and are very well developed, being able to swim and dive within few hours. They can also travel distances of hundred of kilometres and spent less time on shore.

The Conservation of Seals Act (1970) protects common seals during their breeding season, although seals causing damage to fishing gear, or taking fish from nets, may be killed under license. Before the 1970 seal pups used to be hunted for their skins, especially in areas like Shetland and Wash, this over-exploitation of the local populations led to the 1970 Act.

Seals are commonly accused by fishermen of exploiting fish stocks, but in Britain, it seems that grey seals are to blame, and not the common seals. Other danger the Common Seals are facing is the accumulation of pollutants, such as heavy metal and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in their body as they are top predators. Feeding on pray with high levels of PCBs female seals may fail to breed and halt populations recovery.

Fun facts

  • There are five different subspecies of common seal which are found in different regions around the world.
  • You can find the penis of a male common seal preserved at the Icelandic Phallological Museum.
  • They are born with a waterproof layer and so can swim immediately after birth, unlike other species whose pups have to shed their non-waterproof fur.