Common Seal

The Common Seal (Phoca vitulina) is one of two seal species that occur in Ireland. It has a very wide distribution being found in temperate, sub-arctic and arctic coastal areas throughout both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In Ireland, the greatest numbers of common seals are found along the western seaboard predominantly in relatively sheltered areas (often estuaries and sand or mudflats) that are not subject to much human disturbance (map of Generalised distribution range postulated for common seal PDF icon [136KB]).

Common Seals may be up to 1.85 metres in length and weigh up to 130 kilograms, males are generally slightly larger than females. The round, elongated and streamlined body is covered by a coat of thick, short hairs that range in colour from nearly white with dark spots to black or dark brown with white rings. The back of the seal is usually more densely covered with spots or rings than the abdominal (belly) surface. The limbs of the common seal have been modified into flippers. The fore-flippers (pectoral flippers) have the digits webbed together to cup the water. At the end of each of the digits there are small claws used for scratching, grooming, and defence. The hind flippers also have 5 digits and are used to propel the seal forward by moving side to side. Common seals are not very agile on land and thus generally stay close to water to facilitate escape from predators when hauled-out. The nostrils appear distinctively V-shaped and the snout is relatively short (both features that are distinct from the grey seal).

These seals come to shore during June to give birth and mate again around this time but usually in the water. Pups are capable of swimming within a few hours of being born but stay with their mother until weaned. Common Seals also come to shore to moult (shed their fur) during July and August often forming large groups on sheltered shores that have ready access to the sea. During this period when the majority of seals are ashore is when counts of animals are undertaken.

Harbour Seal Harbour Seal and Pup
(Photos: NPWS)  


Download SACs designated for Common Seal PDF icon [29KB]