Belongs to: carnivores

Compare with: grey seal

Common seal Phoca vitulina

Also known as: harbour seal

Best time to see: all year

Key facts

The commonest seal seen around the Essex coast, particularly in the estuaries of the Blackwater, Crouch and Thames

Formerly (and still sometimes) persecuted, the Essex population is about 100 and increasing

Recovery is threatened by increasing boating activity in estuaries which may disturb them at breeding sites


Distinguished from the rarer grey seal by its smaller, puppy-shaped head, and nostrils set at a V-angle

Base colour greyish with small dark spots, but their fur shows dark when waterlogged and when first hauled out

Male (bull) has a length of 1.8m and weighs around 130 kilos; female (cow) is about 25% less in both respects


Give birth from late May on a beach or sandbank that is covered by high tides, known as a rookery

Pups have to swim within an hour or so of birth as the tide floods back in

Weaned after about four weeks, by which time they can dive for about six minutes

  • swimming
  • hauled out

© Robin Chittenden

© Brian Dawson