Grey seal

Grey Seal

Grey Seal ©Chris Gomersall/2020VISION

Grey Seal

Grey Seal ©Alex Mustard/2020VISION

seal pup

Seal pup by Tom Marshall

Grey seal pup waving its flipper, the Wildlife Trusts

© Eleanor Stone

Grey seal

Scientific name: Halichoerus grypus
Have you ever seen the curious face of a grey seal bobbing in the waves when visiting the beach? Grey seals can be seen lying on beaches waiting for their food to go down. Sometimes they are accompanied by their white fluffy seal pups that look like balls of cotton wool!

Species information


Length: up to 2.6m Weight: Males up to 300kg, females up to 200kg. Average Lifespan: 30-40 years

Conservation status

Protected in Britain under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970. Also protected under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 and the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010.

When to see

January to December


The grey seal is the larger of the two UK seal species. If you catch a good look at them you’ll see how they got their scientific name Halichoerus grypus – it means hook-nosed sea pig! These mammals spend most of their time out at sea feeding on fish. They return to land to rest and can often be seen ‘hauled out’, lying on British beaches. Grey seals give birth to fluffy white pups in the autumn. These adorable pups stay on land until they have lost their white coats and trebled their body weight.

How to identify

The grey seal can be distinguished from the common seal by its larger size and longer head with a sloping 'roman nose' profile. Looking straight on, their nostrils are parallel, rather than v-shaped as in common seals. Mainly grey in colour, the unique pattern of darker blotches and spots can be used to identify individuals.


Found all around the UK.

Did you know?

Despite numbers dropping to only 500 in the early 20th century, it's estimated that there are now more than 120,000 grey seals in Britain, representing 40% of the world's population and 95% of the European population.


How people can help

Seals regularly 'haul out' to digest their food or rest, so if you meet one on a beach, give it plenty of space and keep dogs away. This is especially true for mothers and pups. Seals are also easily spooked from their rocky resting spots, so if in a boat or kayak, maintain a distance of at least 100m where possible. 

If you suspect a pup has been abandoned or a seal is injured and in need of attention, keep your distance and call for help. Find out more.

Entanglement in marine litter and ghost fishing gear is a big threat to seals. Why not participate in a beach clean or simply pick up and safely dispose of any rope, strapping or net next time you're at the beach. 

A coastal landscape, with the sea gently lapping at smooth rocks as the sun sets behind scattered clouds

Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

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Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

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