Halichoerus grypus literally translates rather unceremoniously to “Hook-nosed sea-pig”; these “sea-pigs” are more commonly known to you and I as the Atlantic grey seal.

The Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) boasts many designations, including one of the highest available, that of Special Area of Conservation (SAC). One of the reasons for this designation is because of the nationally important breeding population of Atlantic grey seals.

Grey seals are the largest carnivore living in Britain and are among the rarest seals in the world; with the UK Grey seal colonies representing around 40% of the total world population of Grey seals and 95% of the European population!

Male Atlantic greys (or bulls) can grow to around 7.5-8 feet in length and weigh on average between 250-300kg while the females (or cows) generally remain slightly smaller growing to a size of about 5.5-6 feet in length and weigh in at around 160kg.

August to December is a pretty special time of year in Scilly; our female Atlantic greys come ashore on the more remote Eastern Isles, Western & Norrard Rocks to give birth (or pup). By this time these lovely ladies aren’t so “lightweight”; after an 11.5 month gestation period and “piling on the pounds“ they give birth to a single pup, with soft white fur, weighing on average around 14kg.

The pups remain on land, where they feed from their mothers for around 3 weeks; the rich milk contains up to 60% fat and as a result the pups easily put on 2kg or more in weight each day!

At three weeks old the pups are abandoned on the beaches by their mothers, who are ready to mate again; the pup then has to fend for itself and will finally be driven into the sea by hunger.

Between September and January pups are regularly spotted on the beaches of our inhabited Islands; they generally come ashore for a rest or because they are unwell.

When pups are found on our beaches if they look healthy they are left to their own devices and monitored; if they are looking unwell then our local vet, Heike, and a number of on-island Marine Mammal Medic volunteers are trained to respond appropriately and will often take them into care before getting them flown to the Seal Sanctuary at Gweek for rehabilitation.

In the wild Grey seals can live up to 40 years; with the females generally living longer than males.


Here is a short film produced by Natural England highlighting the importance of Atlantic Grey Seals