British Seals: How To Tell The Difference Between Common Seals And Grey Seals

Around our shore there are two commonly seen British seals – namely the Grey Seal and the Common Seal. While at first glance one seal may look very much like another when you know what you’re looking for these two species are actually surprisingly easy to tell apart.

Whilst factors such as colouration, size and habitat can all play a part in correctly identifying seals there is one tip that will let you tell the difference between Common Seals and Grey Seals easily and quickly.

If you’re in the right part of the country, such as Blakeney Point in Norfolk, you can often see seals hauled up out of the water, bathing in the sunshine to dry out their fur and generally having a good scratch.

But most siting of seals are of one or more of these mammals swimming along in the sea with just their head above the water as they keep an eye out for both predators and prey. Fortunately it’s the head that is the ideal identification tool when it comes to deciding whether what you just saw was a Common or Grey Seal meaning that it’s virtually impossible to see a seal in the UK without being able to tell what species it is.

Grey Seal

The grey seal has an elongated head often likened to that of a dog with a long, upturned snout giving it a slightly more predactory look. Take a look at the following photo to get a better idea of the general head shape of a grey seal:

Common Seal

The common seal (which incidentally isn’t as common as the grey seal these days!) has a shorter snout and generally a rounder, “cuter” face. It’s the type of face guaranteed to get an “aah!” from children when they see one while the grey seal, whilst attractive in it’s own right, is far less appealing to eye for many people. Here’s a photo of a common seal to illustrate the point:

Test Time!

So as you can see these two species have very different face/head shapes and can quite easily be told apart. You’ve read the descriptions and seen the pictures so here are is one more for you to test your newfound knowledge out on – answer at the end!

Creative Commons License photo credit: kevinzim

Answer: it is a grey seal. Did you get it right?!

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