Gray Seal

Gray seals get their name because they have a large, cone-shaped head.


What does a gray seal look like?

Gray seals are mammals and belong to aquatic predators. Like all seals, they have a long, powerful body. Instead of front and back legs, they have flippers. As clumsy as they may look on land, in the water gray seals are as fast as torpedoes and are excellent swimmers and divers. Gray seals look a bit like harbor seals but are much larger.

They are 1.80 to three meters long, some males – also called bulls – are even longer. They weigh 120 to 250 kilograms, sometimes up to 320 kilograms. Their head is long and conical, the nostrils are vertical. Usually, only a small bulge can be seen from the ears. Males and females are fairly easy to tell apart. The males are much larger than the females and both have different colored fur: males are dark with light spots, females are light with dark spots.

Where does the gray seal live?

Gray seals live in the northern seas of Europe: they are found around the British Isles, on the coasts of Brittany, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Norway, and even as far north as the White Sea off the coast of Russia. Some also live in the Baltic Sea and on the North Sea coast.

But there are also gray seals on Canada’s Atlantic coast – the east coast of Canada. Gray seals live mainly in the sea and rarely go on land. They prefer rocky coasts and cliffs to sandy beaches.

What species of gray seal is there?

Harp seals, ringed seals, and harbor seals are similar to gray seals. However, since only harbor seals and gray seals occur here and gray seals are much larger than harbor seals, they can hardly be confused with any other animal.

How old does the gray seal get?

Gray seals live up to 35 years.


How does the gray seal live?

Gray seals are very shy and rare animals. They are active during the day and usually live in small packs. At low tide they rest on the shore, at high tide, they hunt for fish and other sea creatures. They can dive up to 130 meters deep for up to 20 minutes. Some animals even dive up to 300 meters below the water surface.

Researchers stuck small transmitters in the fur of the seals and found that they swim up to 30 or 50 kilometers to find food – sometimes even up to 100 kilometers. When it’s mating season, the gray seals get busy: the males gather a harem of five to six females around them, which they jealously guard.

If another male dares to get too close to the female, the harem bull will attack him violently and with a loud roar. However, this rarely happens to the animals; mostly they just want to impress each other – and show who is the stronger. When the mating season is over, the males become peaceful again. The harem disperses and the seals live together in loose packs.

Gray seals used to gather in large groups on the North Atlantic coasts for mating and whelping season. Such “littering places” have become rare today – the seals were hunted a lot or too often disturbed by people. That’s why today they seek shelter on lonely rocky coasts, either individually or in small groups. Only on the Orkney Islands north of Great Britain do large herds still exist.

Gray seals – and especially they’re young – used to be mercilessly hunted and killed for their fur. Luckily this is forbidden today and the herds of gray seals are getting bigger again. However, hunters used to feel that gray seals are much more aggressive than harbor seals, for example.

Time and again it is said that old gray seal males cut off the hunters’ way back, straightened up, attacked them – and bit them.

Friends and foes of the gray seal

Gray seals have few natural enemies. Only sharks or killer whales can be dangerous to them. The greatest threat comes from humans: gray seals have been hunted for centuries.

How does the gray seal reproduce?

Between November and March, the gray seal’s mate, and less than a year later the female gives birth to a pup on land. The time of birth depends on where the gray seals live: in the North Atlantic, the gray seal babies are born between October and November, in the Baltic Sea in February and March.

A newborn gray seal is 75 centimeters to one meter long and weighs between 15 and 20 kilograms. She is suckled by her mother for two to two and a half weeks. Gray seal pups don’t yet wear waterproof fur, but instead wear a long, white, woolly coat also called a lanugo.

Only when they are two to four weeks old do they change their fur and make their first attempts at swimming. You will then become independent very quickly. Young gray seals are small solitary animals and play by themselves most of the time.

How does the gray seal hunt?

Gray seals are predators and mainly hunt for prey on the seabed.

How does the gray seal communicate?

Gray seals can growl and grunt. Sometimes they also howl or snort loudly.


What does the gray seal eat?

Gray seals mainly eat fish, crabs, and squid. Because of this, fishermen sometimes see them as competitors.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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