Common Seal

Phoca vitulina


The smaller of our two seal species, Common Seals (also known as Harbour Seals) are more commonly found around sheltered shores and estuaries, where they haul out on sandbanks and beaches. When out of the water, they sometimes hold their body in a curved 'banana' position, with their head and tail both in the air at the same time. Like Grey Seals, they feed on fish, but also eat squids, whelks, crabs and mussels. The young are born during the summer.

How to identify

Can be distinguished from the Grey Seal by its smaller size and shorter head with a blunter, more dog-like profile. Very variable in colour, from blonde to black, but generally grey with dark spots.

Where to find it

Found around the coasts of Scotland, Northern Ireland and eastern England.


When to find it

  • January
  • February
  • March
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September
  • October
  • November
  • December

How can people help

Common Seals were historically hunted by humans, their numbers dwindling as a result. Following the ban on shooting, recovering populations were hit hard in the 1980s by a disease called phocine distemper - thousands of seals died across Europe. This disease causes periodic population crashes which are uncontrollable. To help seals and other marine wildlife, The Wildlife Trusts are working with fishermen, researchers, politicians and local people towards a vision of 'Living Seas', where marine wildlife thrives. This work has recently had a massive boost with the passing of the Marine Bill, promising sustainable development of the UK's marine environment. Do your bit for our Living Seas by supporting your local Wildlife Trust.

Species information

Common name
Common Seal
Latin name
Phoca vitulina
Seals, turtles and other marine mammals
Length: 1.2-1.6m Weight: 45-105kg Average Lifespan: 20-30 years
Conservation status
Protected in Britain under the Conservation of Seals Act, 1970, and classified as a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. Also protected under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order, 1985