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  • Seals

    General


    • Seals belong to a group called pinnipeds. Pinniped means 'winged-feet', ie their flippers.
    • Worldwide there are 33 species of pinniped (seals, sealions, fur seals, walruses). Two of these species live around the UK. The grey seal, and the common seal.
    • The biggest pinniped is the elephant seal, males can grow up to 5 metres long.
    • The smallest pinniped is the Baikal seal, which grows to about 1.3 metres long.
    • Seals eat fish.
    • Seals give birth on land (unlike dolphins and whales).
    • A thick layer of blubber insulates seals from the cold. (Most mammals need to maintain a body temperature of 37�C (98.6�F), and the sea is much colder than this.)
    • A baby seal is called a pup. When a pup is born, its mother smells it and calls to it, and immediately forms a bond.
    • The seal's whiskers help it to find prey in murky waters.
    • Seals spend most of their time at sea.
    • Seals will come ashore for 3 reasons: to moult, to breed, to rest (between fishing expeditions).
    • Sealions and fur seals can walk on all fours, seals only wriggle on their stomachs.
    • Male seals are referred to as 'bulls', female seals as 'cows'
    • Seals can dive to great depths for lengthy periods of time.
    • To efficiently move through water, their bodies are streamlined.
    • To swim quickly a seal holds its front flippers tight against its sides, using its hind flippers to propell itself. Whilst moving along, the lower body moves from side to side (much like a fish).
    • To swim slowly, a seal sticks its front flippers out at the sides and uses them as stabilisers.



    Sighting


    • Both the grey seal and the common seal live around the UK.
    • The UK coast hosts up to half of the world's population of grey seals.
    • Grey and common seals can often inhabit the same parts of the coastline.
    • Scotland in particular is an important breeding area for grey seals.
    • They can often be seen basking peacefully on beaches, sandbanks or rocks. (If you see a seal on a beach, do not go near, if the seal is a pup you could drive away the mother. In addition, seals bite!
    • As curious creatures, they do sometimes swim up to boats to see what is happening.



    Species


    Grey Seal

    • Scientific Name: Halichoerus grypus.
    • Size: Larger than common seals. The male can grow to about 3.3 metres long and weigh around 315kg, the female up to 2.5 metres long, and weigh around 200kg.
    • Location: As well as the UK, they also reside around Northern Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea, Iceland, and South East Canada.
    • Description: Colourings can vary, from dark brown, to grey, creamy white, or black with blotches. Females are often paler than the males. Often the backs of both males and females will be of a darker colouring than their stomachs. Male grey seals are larger than females, have an elongated snout and heavy muzzle, and broad shoulders. The females have a less rounded profile and a thinner snout. The grey seal has a prominent "roman" nose, with widely parted nostrils.
    • Feeding: Fish, but will occasionally take cephalopods and crustaceans.
    • Lifespan: Up to 46 years. As with most species, the females usually outlive the male.

    Common Seal

    • Scientific Name: Phoca vitulina.
    • Size: Males can reach up to 1.85 metres long and weigh 105kg, whereas females can reach up to 1.75 metres long and weigh 85kg.
    • Location: These are the most widespread of pinnipeds. Distributed over northern parts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. They prefer sheltered waters, mainly living along shorelines and in estuaries. They can also inhabit fresh waters.
    • Description: Also known as 'Harbour Seal'. Coat colour and pattern vary between different regions. They could be black, brown, grey or tan, with darker patches. Their backs are often darker than their stomachs and chests. By comparison to the grey seal, the common seal has a rounder and flatter face, with narrower nostrils. When viewed from the front, the nostril slits form a 'v' shape.
    • Behaviour: They do not tend to gather in the large groups typical of other pinnipeds. Common seals are considered gregarious.
    • Movement: Their dives are short (up to 10 minutes), regular, and usually to less than 100 metres.
    • Feeding: Fish, molluscs and crustaceans.
    • Lifespan: Up to 30 years. Like the grey seal, the females have longer lifespans than the males.