dw5448's picture

Possible harbour seal

Observed: 30th January 2010 By: dw5448
S159 Neighbourhood Nature - course complete
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A variety of shots of two similar individuals present together about 60m offshore

Species interactions

No interactions present.


dw5448's picture

Explanatory comments

I published these images because i felt quite confused about the species. at first glance I assumed that they were grey, but soon talked myself out of this with guidebook suggestions that the snout is pointed and the arch of the nose much higher. Most of the sources I looked at only seem useful at close range, and it would be good to have a field guide that deals with situations like this more adequately.

Any hints would be appreciated.

Exobasidium's picture

Image 3

In this photograph from the tip of the nose to the top of the head is almost a straight line so I feel sure this is a grey seal. The head of a common seal shows a deep v-shaped depression from the nose to the top of the head similar to most dog breeds.

Rob Coleman's picture

I've certainly seen Greys

I've certainly seen Greys 'floating around with just snout above the surface' trick before.

Rob Coleman

the naturalist man's picture


Are these the highest resolution photos you have? I am especially interested in the top left picture of the seal bottling and the top right.

There is definately a concavishness (is there such a word?) about the muzzle, also if your estimation of the size is right it is far to large to be common.

However, what has caught my attention are the prominant, long white whiskers. I want to send the best photo you have to a seal expert, you may have a bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus) here. This was my first thought as soon as I saw the photos. However, there is one major problem, bearded seals do not usually have any noticable spots - though it is not unheard of, just rare. It could just be a young female grey seal with bleached/leucistic whiskers.

Graham Banwell

Visit the iSpot Yorkshire forum for information on events, issues and news relating to 'God's own country'

suesseals's picture

Species ID

A tough one! I can't be anything like sure, but if your forced me to say what I though it was, I'd go for a Common Seal. This based on the slight forehead dip, the appearance of a snub nose and the impression of the pelage pattern.
The Exploris Aquarium and Seal Sanctuary in County Down takes Greys and Commons, so they're in the area!

Cornwall Seal Group

the naturalist man's picture

Common seal?

Thanks for looking at this Sue. I've sent it to a couple of friends and the concensus is common seal. Though all agree the whiskers are very pale, long and thick for a common seal; they usually have thin, more delicate whiskers. It could be a trick of the light.

Size is very difficult to estimate in the water. A common seal would be under 2m in length. The clincher for me is, having looked very closely at these pictures again, the head is just too well proportioned, especially in photo 4, for it to be a bearded seal. They have very small heads in comparision to a big, fat body. Also the body is too well marked with spots.

I have also checked the sightings of bearded seals, none have ever been seen to the west of Britain, except one off Skye. All the sightings are in the Northern Isles or on the east coast. It would, therefore, have been a first for Ireland.

. I tried to string a bearded seal but I think I must agree with unusual common seal.

Graham Banwell

Visit the iSpot Yorkshire forum for information on events, issues and news relating to 'God's own country'

am9634's picture

20 feb 2010

when i saw picture recognised this as common or harbour seal. Phoca vitulina. I am a diver and this seal is typical of harbour seal on surface.Young ones can look grey and blotchy and very fat.Ann

bethpawprints's picture


Yes this does look to be a harbour seal

Beth BR

bethpawprints's picture


This looks like a harbour seal.

Beth BR

dw5448's picture

Thanks for feedback

I've been away on an offshore survey for a couple of weeks, so have only just seen the amount of discussion. These were the best photos - I need a better camera! I really find the head shape difficult, but would be happy with common seal as an ID - there are still plenty further North in the Outer dundrum Bay - but there are also greys over at Ardglass.