Grey Seal

Grey Seal ©Chris Gomersall/2020VISION

Grey Seal

Grey Seal ©Alex Mustard/2020VISION

seal pup

Seal pup by Tom Marshall

Grey seal pup waving its flipper, the Wildlife Trusts

© Eleanor Stone

Grey seal

Scientific name: Halichoerus grypus
The larger of our two UK seal species, the curious face of a grey seal bobbing in the waves is a familiar sight all around the British Isles. Catch them in profile and you'll see how they got their scientific name, Halichoerus grypus - it means hook-nosed sea pig!

Species information


Length: up to 2.6m Weight: Males up to 300kg, females up to 200kg. Average Lifespan: 30-40 years

Conservation status

Protected in Britain under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970. Also protected under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 and the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010.

When to see

January to December


A very large mammal, the grey seal spends most of its time out at sea where it feeds on fish. They are easily spotted at the surface close to shore or 'hauled out' onto rocks and beaches to rest or digest their food.

Grey seals also come ashore to give birth, with large colonies breeding on sandy shores on the east coast of England and on remote beaches and islands elsewhere. Fluffy white pups are born between September and December. Pups remain on land until they have moulted their white coats and trebled their birth weight; at which point they head to the sea to hunt for themselves.

How to identify

The grey seal can be distinguished from the common seal by its larger size and longer head with a sloping 'roman nose' profile. Looking straight on, their nostrils are parallel, rather than v-shaped as in common seals. Mainly grey in colour, the unique pattern of darker blotches and spots can be used to identify individuals.

In our area

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

Grey seals have been recorded all along the Dorset coast from Lyme Regis to Christchurch although there have been more sightings off the Purbeck coast and at Portland Bill.  Whilst most Grey seals have only been recorded once in Dorset, our photo identification catalogue has revealed that a few individuals are regular visitors. 

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 all around the UK.

Did you know?

Despite numbers dropping to only 500 in the early 20th century, it's estimated that there are now more than 120,000 grey seals in Britain, representing 40% of the world's population.

How people can help

Seals regularly 'haul out' to digest their food or rest, so if you meet one on a beach, give it plenty of space and keep dogs away. This is especially true for mothers and pups. Seals are also easily spooked from their rocky resting spots, so if in a boat or kayak, maintain a distance of at least 100m where possible.

If you suspect a pup has been abandoned or a seal is injured and in need of attention, keep your distance and call for help (see

Entanglement in marine litter and ghost fishing gear is a big threat to our grey seals, so why not participate in a beach clean or simply pick up and safely dispose of any rope, strapping or net next time you're at the beach. To help seals and other marine wildlife, The Wildlife Trusts are working with sea users, researchers, politicians and local people towards a vision of 'Living Seas', where marine wildlife thrives. Do your bit for our Living Seas by supporting your local Wildlife Trust or checking out our Action Pages.