Grey seal

  • Scientific name: Halichoerus grypus
  • Length: Adults: (male) 1.9 – 2.6m (female) 1.6 – 2.1m Pups: 0.85 – 1m
  • Marine mammal type: seal
  • Family: Phocidae
  • IUCN Conservation status: Least concern
  • Protected by: Conservation of Seals Act 1970


Pups are born with a long white fur coat (lanugo) that they moult out of by the time they are three weeks old into their shorter grey fur coat, which can vary from mottled pale to dark grey, brown, black and white. Males tend to be darker in colour and are mottled mainly around the neck. Females are most often mottled from their head along most of their body, being pale grey/white underneath and dark grey on top. Mature males will develop a longer, pronounced ‘Roman’ nose that also helps distinguish the sexes, as mature females retain the shorter, more concave profile from the forehead to the nostrils.The general appearance of the head of both sexes is more doglike compared to common seals. When closed, the nostrils of this species are parallel to each other.

Where to see them

This species is found only in the North Atlantic Ocean, North Sea and Baltic Sea. With a grey seal population of 116,500- 167,100 (based on pup production – SCOS Report, Sea Mammal Research Unit 2016) the UK is the primary stronghold for approximately 38% of the global population. Colonies are found around Scotland (Inner and Outer Hebrides, Shetland, Orkney, Moray Firth to the Firth of Forth, Isle of May); North East England (Farne Islands, Northumberland, Yorkshire), with a few other significant colonies further South (Lincolnshire, Norfolk). Plus there are more, mostly smaller, colonies across Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, North West England (Cumbria), Wales (Bardsey Island, Skomer, Ramsey Island, Cardigan Bay, Pembrokeshire), South West England (Lundy Island, Devon, Cornwall, Isles of Scilly) and the Channel Islands, with a more small groups along the English Channel coast.


Grey seal pups tend to be rescued close to colony populations (see map in where to see them).

Adult seals are large powerful animals are are best left to trained and experienced medics.

What to do if you find a stranded animal?

Watch it from a distance. Do not approach the animal. Seals regularly haul out on our coasts – it is part of their normal behaviour and in fact they spend more time out of the water, digesting their food and resting. Therefore, finding a seal on the beach does not mean there is necessarily a problem and they should not be chased back into the sea as this may stop them from doing what they need to do – rest. A healthy seal should be left well alone.

After stormy weather and / or high tides, seals will haul out onto beaches to rest and regain their strength.  Many do not need first aid, but we will always try to find someone to check them out just in case.

However, if there is a problem, there are a number of things you may see:

  • Abandoned: If you see a seal with a white, long-haired coat in the autumn/winter, or you see a small seal (less than three feet in length) alone between June and August, then it is probably still suckling from its mother. Check the sea regularly for any sign of an adult seal.
  • Thin: Signs of malnutrition include visible ribs, hips and neck and perhaps a rather baggy, wrinkled skin.
  • Sick: Signs of ill health include : coughing, sneezing or noisy, rapid breathing and possibly thick mucus coming from the nose, wounds or swellings, particularly on the flippers, and possibly favouring one flipper when moving (although remember that healthy seals will often lie and ‘hunch along’ on their sides) cloudy eyes, or thick mucus around them, or possibly one eye kept closed most of the time a seal showing little response to any disturbance going on around it (although remember they could be soundly asleep).

If you see a seal that may be abandoned, thin or ill, then call for advice and assistance:

01825 765546 

RSPCA hotline (England & Wales):
 0300 1234 999
SSPCA hotline (Scotland): 03000 999 999

You will receive further advice over the phone. If there is a problem with the animal, there are some important things you can do to help:

  • Provide information: Give the hotline an accurate description of the seal and its exact location. If at all possible, stay on the beach to guide the rescue team to the animal. This can save valuable and perhaps critical time. If you have a mobile, give the number to the hotline.
  • Control disturbance: Stop other people and their animals from approaching the seal, because – if it is a seal pup that is still suckling, then approaching the pup could threaten the mother-pup bond and the pup may be abandoned seals will react if approached too closely and are capable of inflicting a nasty bite – even the smallest pup can cause serious injury and this is even more of a risk with adults.
  • Prevent small seals from entering the sea: Stand between a pup and the sea and, if necessary, use a board or similar object to restrain it. Under no circumstances, attempt this with adult seals, as you could leave yourself open to injury. You should avoid handling a seal pup at all costs, for the same reason. Under no circumstances allow anybody to push the seal back in the sea. A pup still suckling is a poor swimmer and an older animal may be hauled out for good reason.