From the team at BBC Wildlife Magazine

7 things you didn’t know about the common seal

Discover fantastic facts about the smaller of the two UK breeding seals. 

Published: August 13, 2015 at 8:15 am
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1 Another name 


Also known as harbour seals, common seals are characteristic of sandflats and estuaries. The Wash of East Anglia is home to the UK's largest colony, although they are also found on rocky shores in Scotland.

2 Balancing act

On land, common seals often rest with both their head and tail held in the air simultaneously, not unlike a banana balanced on its outside edge.

3 Early starters

Common seal pups, unlike those of greys, can swim almost immediately after birth. This allows common seals to breed on tidal sandbanks, while greys must pup above the high tide mark.

4 Seadogs

While greys have heavy, prominent muzzles like a labrador and wide-set nostrils, common seals are graced with more delicate puppy-like faces, with their nostrils arranged in a distinctive V-shape.

5 City seals

Common seals are not uncommon in the Thames estuary and are spotted quite regularly from the London Eye.

6 Not so common

The UK is home to about 50,000 common seals – about 50 per cent of the European population - most of them in Scotland. Despite their name, they are not as numerous as grey seals.

7 Bouncing back


Outbreaks of phocine distemper virus in 1988 and 2002 killed about a third of the UK's common seals, although they have since recovered spectacularly and now number more than before the disease struck.



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