Discover Dorset's seals
Two species of seal are native to UK waters, grey seals and common (or harbour) seals, both of which can be encountered in Dorset. The UK is important for both species, home to almost 40% of the global grey seal population and around 30% of the European subspecies of the common seal population.
Seals are highly mobile marine mammals, capable of covering hundreds of kilometres and remaining at sea for days at a time. From time-to-time seals will come ashore, also known as ‘hauling out’. This may be to simply rest and aid digestion however at certain times of the year they will spend longer periods of time on land such as during the moulting and breeding season.
Although seals do not have any natural predators in Dorset, they face increasing pressures from environmental and human-based sources. Climate change is causing more frequent extreme weather events and affecting prey availability and distribution; people getting too close to seals leads to disturbance and marine litter poses a risk of entanglement.
Through our Dorset Seal Project, we have been learning more about seals that are spotted locally and raising awareness of these iconic marine species. We have also been promoting codes of conduct to reduce harmful human behaviour.
Responsible seal watching
We are privileged to have visits from both grey seals and common seals along the Dorset coast and whilst it’s exciting to spot a seal, it’s important to remember that they are wild animals and need to be given plenty of space. Seals are vulnerable to disturbance from humans, especially when on land. Seals need to come ashore to rest, digest their food, breed and moult and getting too close causes disturbance. Disturbance is bad for seals as it interrupts their rest, wastes their energy, raises their stress levels, and can result in them becoming injured or worse. Here are some tips to help you enjoy a memorable experience without causing disturbance:
- Keep well away from seals so that they can’t see, hear or smell you
- Use a camera zoom or binoculars for a better view
- Keep dogs on a lead if seals are known to be in the area
- Never feed seals
- Take all litter home
- Do not seek out encounters with seals in the water
Download these leaflets and posters for further advice:
Record your sighting
Spotted a seal in Dorset? Your information and photos could provide a valuable insight and help further our understanding of seals in Dorset. Images can be compared or added to our Dorset seal photo identification catalogue which allows us to recognise individuals and is helping us learn whether seals are returning to the same areas or if any are regular visitors. We can also learn more about seal movements over larger areas by sharing this catalogue with seal recorders in other areas.
Please let us know if you spot a seal in Dorset. You can report your sighting and submit photos using our online seal recording form here.
Alternatively, you can let us know by email: email@example.com.
Always practice responsible seal watching. Remember to give seals plenty of space, stay out of sight, keep dogs on leads and use a zoom lens if taking photos.
Concerned about a seal?
Meet some Dorset Seals
Seals have unique markings and patterns in their fur which remain the same throughout their life. By photographing and cataloguing these recognisable features, along with any scars or tags if present, individuals can be identified and we can track their movements. Our photo identification work has revealed that many seals are just passing through, but a few are regular visitors. Here are some of their stories:
'Fiver' is a female grey seal named because of the £5 marking on the left side of her neck. She also has a distinctive scar on her nose. Fiver was the first seal to be added to our seal photo ID catalogue and has been seen regularly in Dorset ever since.
'Bonnemine' is a female common seal who was rescued as a pup in France. After her rehabilitation she was fitted with a satellite tag and released in Mont St Michel Bay in 2007. The tag showed her crossing the Channel to Dorset shortly after her release. The last transmission from her tag was from Poole Harbour in 2008 where she is still seen today.
‘Molar’ is a female grey seal spotted several times along the Dorset coast. When we shared our catalogue with the Seal Research Trust, we discovered that Molar is a well-travelled seal who has also been recorded in Cornwall!
Why conservationists name seals
Conservationists don't usually name individual animals but when studying seals, having a name can be really useful. Here's Marine Awareness Officer, Julie Hatcher to tell us why and to introduce us to three of Dorset's seals. If you spot a seal, please keep your distance.