Also known as the harbour seal, the common seal is one of two seal species found around the Scottish coastline; the key identifier is its short rounded muzzle. When seen in profile “hauled out” on land and when seen face on in the water, their closed nostrils nearly touch in a V-shape that cannot be confused with the grey seal whose closed nostrils have almost parallel slits, and whose muzzle is much deeper and longer.
Common seals prefer to keep their distance from other seals. They often rest on their side with their back flippers off the ground in a “banana-shaped” outline. In general, they have smaller spots than grey seals, but this can be difficult to see, especially during the moult in June – September.
Common seal males – the bulls – hold underwater territories, where they roar to attract females – cows – and repel rival bulls. These sounds (like other underwater wildlife noises, from shrimp crackles to whale songs) can be heard through special underwater microphones called ‘hydrophones’, developed for military use and now invaluable in studies of the behaviour of marine creatures.
The larger of the two seals found around the Scottish coastline. Two key identification points are its relatively deep, long muzzle when seen in profile and, when seen face-on in the water, their closed nostrils with almost parallel slits. Grey seals cannot be confused with the common seal whose nostrils nearly touch in a V-shape and whose muzzle is shorter and head rounded.
Out of the water, grey seals stay close together, even touching each other; although a single grey may be seen in a dispersed group of commons. It is a large seal and males are nearly twice the size of females.
Grey seals can travel enormous distances. Journeys between the Moray Firth in north-east Scotland and the Farne Islands in the north of England are fairly easy for them. One grey seal was tracked by satellite from Scotland to the Faroe Islands and down to Ireland before its transmitter battery failed.