This species gets its name from the horseshoe or harp-shaped pattern that develops on the back and sides of mature animals. Adults are cream/white colour over most of their body, while the head and the harp shape are brown and are difficult to confuse with other species. Pups and juveniles usually have a cream/ white underside and a grey back with little, if any, mottling and may be confused with grey, common or hooded seal pups. They are found around North and East Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Russia, and the population is estimated to be between 5.5 – 8 million animals, making them one of the most abundant phocid species.
Harp seals are very rare visitors to the UK as the species prefers the colder waters of the Arctic.
They have been found around the UK occasionally, particularly around Shetland and along the East coast.
Individuals found in the UK tend the be adults and not necessarily requiring rescue. As with most vagrant species most animals simply require monitoring and stay in an area for just a short time. There are plenty of food sources available and they are quite capable of surviving here.
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:
If you see a seal that may be abandoned, thin or ill, then call for advice and assistance:
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: