Species most likely to be encountered.
Grey seal (Halichoerus grypus)
Size: males are up to 300 kg in weight and 2.5 metres long, females smaller at up to 150 kg in weight and 1.8 metres long.
Coat: variable - patches of black, grey, brown, white and silver with the back tending to be darker than the underside - males tend to be darker than females.
Head: both sexes have a long, dog-like muzzle, males have a pronounced Roman nose - both sexes’ nostrils are parallel to each other.
Adult diet: primarily fish (particularly sandeels, gadoids, e.g. cod and ling, and flatfish, e.g. plaice), also crustaceans (shrimp, crabs) and cephalopods (squid, possibly cuttlefish and octopus).
Harbour/common seal (Phocoena vitulina)
Size: Smaller than grey seals, with males weighing up to 120 kg and measuring up to approximately 1.8 metres in length, females being shorter (up to 1.5 metres) and lighter (up to 100 kg).
Coat: Generally paler than grey seals and more extensively spotted. Head: they have short, cat-like muzzles and their nostrils form a “V” shape.
Adult diet: fish (cod and other gadoids, herring, trout, salmon, flatfish e.g. flounder), cephalopods and other molluscs (e.g. whelks) and crustaceans (krill, shrimp, amphipods, crabs).
Harp seal (Phoca groenlandica)
The ice-breeding harp seal, found in waters of the Arctic Ocean, obtains its name from the horseshoe or harp-shaped pattern on the back and sides of the adults of the species. Precise figures for harp seal abundance are unavailable. However recent estimates are 4.0 – 6.4 million in the northwest Atlantic population, 300,000 in the east Greenland population and 1.2 million in the Barents Sea/White Sea population. Wandering individuals have been observed as far south as Virginia and France.
Hooded seal (Cystophora cristata)
The hooded seal is so called because of a large elastic nasal cavity, or “hood”, extending from the nostrils to the forehead in mature males which, when fully inflated, resembles a large black rubber ball. The “hood” is absent in females and immature males. Males occasionally exceed 3 metres in length and 400kg in weight; they have a life span of up to 32 years. Most of the hooded seal population is distributed in the North Atlantic, but some individuals have been found as far south as Puerto Rico and the Canary Isles. Their diet consists of mussels, starfish, squid, shrimp, hearing and cod. Aside from humans, who hunt them for their skin, their chief predator is the killer whale (Orca).
Ringed seal (Phoca hispida)
These are the most common and widespread seals in the Arctic. They have been found as far south as Portugal. Ringed seals are one of the smallest of all the pinnipeds with adults rarely exceeding 1.5 meters in length and 68kg in weight. Ringed seals weigh the most in winter and early spring when they have a thick layer of blubber under their skin. The colouration of ringed seals is quite variable, but the basic pattern is grey-black with black spots and a light belly. The seal gets its name from the black spots ringed with light marks.