Common seal

Common Seal

Common Seal ©Jamie Hall

Common seal

Scientific name: Phoca vitulina
The smaller of our two UK seal species, common seals are also known as harbour seals. Despite being called "Common", they are actually less common than grey seals!

Species information


Length: up to 2m Weight: 65-150kg Average Lifespan: 20-35 years

Conservation status

Protected in Britain under the Conservation of Seals Act, 1970, and classified as a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework. Also protected under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order, 1985.

When to see

January to December


When not at sea, common seals are found around sheltered shores and estuaries, where they haul out on sandbanks and beaches. When out of the water, they sometimes hold their body in a curved banana position, with their head and tail both in the air at the same time. Like grey seals, they feed on fish, but also eat squid, whelks, crabs and mussels. Common seal pups are born during the summer and can swim when they are only a few hours old!

How to identify

The common seal can be distinguished from the grey seal by its smaller size and shorter head with a more concave forehead. Common seals have V-shaped nostrils. They are very variable in colour, from blonde to black, but generally grey with dark spots.

In our area

Both grey seals and common or harbour seals can be spotted in Dorset.

Poole Harbour is an important site for common seals, and they have been present in the harbour for a number of years.  Compared with grey seals, sightings of common seals are not as widespread throughout Dorset with almost all the common seal sightings restricted to Poole Harbour and adjacent waterways.  Several common seals have been recorded on multiple occasions throughout the year indicating that there is a small resident population here in Dorset.

Recording your sighting of a Dorset seal

If you spot a seal your information and photos can help us get a better understanding of seals in Dorset such as how many are seen, how frequently and their location.  Photos can be compared or added to our Dorset seal photo identification catalogue which allows us to identify individuals and is helping us learn whether seals are returning to the same areas and if any are resident here. We can also share this photo ID catalogue with other recorders to help us learn more about seal movements over a larger area.

Please let us know if you spot a seal in Dorset. You can report your sighting and submit photos using our online reporting form we also have a seal identification guide that you may find useful.

Alternatively, you can let us know by email: 

Remember, seals are wild animals. Keep your distance or remain out of sight to prevent distress. Download our Code of Conduct for more information. For any welfare concerns please check with British Divers Marine Life Rescue.


Found around the coasts of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Teesmouth and eastern England.

Did you know?

Common seals have been known to swim up rivers in search of their next meal and have even been spotted over a hundred miles upstream!