They have a reputation for being playful, but are also incredibly shy. Seals can be highly entertaining creatures and the best thing is they’re found around coastlines in the UK…
I was being really indecisive about what post to write next for Wildlife Wednesdays but after reading through a list of marine wildlife around the UK on the Marine Conservation Society website, I had to give the spotlight to seals.
In the UK, we have two types of seals on our coastlines – the grey and the common sea (otherwise known as the harbour seal).
What’s the difference?
Well, the best way to tell the difference between a grey and a harbour seal, seems to be with their facial features.
The grey seal has more of an elongated head, likened to that of a dog, with a upturned snout (seen in the photo above).
The common or harbour seal has a shorter snout and a rounder, often thought, ‘cuter’ face.
From what I gather, they both have a reputation of being cheeky – divers and surfers have reported many playful encounters with seals in the water and indeed, when they’re in the ocean, they are bold and inquisitive.
But on land, they’re much more wary, lying closer to shore so they can escape from any threats quickly.
So I did a bit of research into these little guys and I was pleased to find that they’re not thought to be endangered.
Their main threats are from fishing – getting entangled in fishing gear as an example. But outbreaks of viruses have also proved damaging to harbour seal populations in the past. In 1988, more than 20,000 harbour seals are estimated to have died from a distemper virus epidemic in European waters.
A similar outbreak in 2002 is thought to have killed around 30,000.
It’s thought that, as harbour seals haul themselves out onto shorelines, they come into contact with waste from humans, pets and feral animals which could present a higher risk of exposure to disease.
Oil leaks and oil spills are also huge threats, claiming the lives of many harbour seals each year with long-term impacts on their health and environment.
So, thankfully, none of these factors have led to harbour or common seals being classified as vulnerable or endangered – yet.
But how much do we really know about them?
Here are some facts I discovered when researching this post:
- Research has shown that harbour seals have regional ‘dialects’
- The UK hosts between 4 and 5% of the world population in harbour seals – 85% of the UK population live in Scottish seas
- Male harbour seals roar underwater to attract females during the breeding season
- Common seals don’t chew their food, it is just torn into chunks or even swallowed whole.
- Common seals spend the majority of their time in the water. They are capable of diving to depths of several hundred metres and can remain submerged for over half an hour.
I would love to see a seal in the ocean.
But what should you do if you do spot one?
Lots of wildlife conservation groups and charities encourage people to report sightings of marine creatures to help with observation numbers and highlighting valuable areas with regards to wildlife.
Check out the advice on the Wildlife Trusts website here for any marine creature you are lucky enough to spot!