Grey seal & Common seal

Grey sealGrey seal

Latin name: Halichoerus grypus

Length: Up to 208cm Weight: Up to 233kg

Where: Loch Long; Loch Goil

When: All year round

Common seal

Latin name: Phoca vituluna

Length: Up to 185cm Weight: Up to 130kg

Where: Loch Long; Loch Goil; Balloch end of Loch Lomond in summer

When: All year round

The grey seal’s Latin name means ‘hook-nosed sea-pig’ – and if you can remember that you will always be able to tell them apart from their snub-nosed cousins, the common seals.

You can see both kinds of seal in Loch Long and Loch Goil. They often haul out on the rocky skerries just offshore. Sometimes they even turn the tables on us, and come people watching. If you’re playing on the beach look out for their whiskery snouts bobbing in the waves when they can’t resist peeking back at the curious watchers.

In Scotland some people believed they were ‘selchies’. These were seals that could transform themselves into men and women - who would fall in love with mortals, produce children but then be forced to return to the sea, leaving their loved ones behind to mourn them.

Seals are now a much commoner sight than in those days. Numbers of grey seals have rocketed in Britain since the beginning of the 20th century, when an Act of Parliament was passed to protect them because it was believed there were only a few hundred left in the UK.
We now have half the world population around our shores, and this is the species you are more likely to see. Besides their more dog-like head shape grey seals are much bigger than commons, and have their pups in late autumn, while the commons give birth in early summer. common seal

Common seal pups have to be able to swim hours after they are born, as many are born on intertidal mud flats. Because of this their coats are sleek and dark. Grey seals pups are born above the high tide line, and don’t have to take to the water until three weeks after they are born. They have soft, almost downy white coats to keep them warm in the chill autumn storms.

Once at sea seals are superbly adapted to cope with the marine environment. Their torpedo-like shape makes them excellent swimmers and also helps them retain heat because of their small surface area to size ratio. Beneath their warm fur coat is a layer of blubber up to 62mm (2.5inches) thick.

One of the reasons seals are not often spotted in the water is that they spend up to 80% of their time submerged, with average dive times up to eight minutes — coming up for air just for one minute. In emergencies they can stay down for up to 30 minutes!

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Any natural place contains an infinite reservoir of information, and therefore the potential for inexhaustible new discoveries.

Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods