Common seal

Common Seal

Common Seal ©Jamie Hall

Common seal

Scientific name: Phoca vitulina
The smaller of our two UK seal species, common seals are also known as harbour seals. Despite being called "Common", they are actually less common than grey seals!

Species information


Length: up to 2m Weight: 65-150kg Average Lifespan: 20-35 years

Conservation status

Protected in Britain under the Conservation of Seals Act, 1970, and classified as a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework. Also protected under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order, 1985.

When to see

January to December


When not at sea, common seals are 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 squid, whelks, crabs and mussels. Common seal pups are born during the summer and can swim when they are only a few hours old!

How to identify

The common seal can be distinguished from the grey seal by its smaller size and shorter head with a more concave forehead. Common seals have V-shaped nostrils. They are very variable in colour, from blonde to black, but generally grey with dark spots.


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

Did you know?

Common seals have been known to swim up rivers in search of their next meal and have even been spotted over a hundred miles upstream!