Scientific name: Halichoerus grypus
The larger of our 2 UK seal species, the curious face of a grey seal bobbing in the waves is a familiar sight all around the British Isles. Catch them in profile and you'll see how they got their scientific name, Halichoerus grypus - it means hook-nosed sea pig!
StatisticsLength: up to 2.6m Weight: Males up to 300kg, females up to 200kg. Average Lifespan: 30-40 years
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 seeJanuary to December
AboutA very large mammal, the grey seal spends most of its time out at sea where it feeds on fish. They are easily spotted at the surface close to shore or 'hauled out' onto rocks and beaches to rest or digest their food. Grey seals also come ashore to give birth, with large colonies breeding on sandy shores on the east coast of England and on remote beaches and islands elsewhere. Fluffy white pups are born between September and December. Pups remain on land until they have moulted their white coats and trebled their birth weight; at which point they head to the sea to hunt for themselves.
How to identifyThe 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.
DistributionFound 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.
How people can helpSeals 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 (see www.wildlifetrusts.org/living-seas/marine-protected-areas/sightings).
Entanglement in marine litter and ghost fishing gear is a big threat to our grey seals, so 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. To help seals and other marine wildlife, The Wildlife Trusts are working with sea users, researchers, politicians and local people towards a vision of 'Living Seas', where marine wildlife thrives. Do your bit for our Living Seas by supporting your local Wildlife Trust or checking out our Action Pages.