UK SEALS - Telling Them Apart

UK SEALS - Telling Them Apart

UK SEALS - Telling Them Apart - UK and Ireland : SEALS Photos: •Carousel image credits: scarpermac, Ade, Earthmomma82, Bollo58, ColinKni

SEALS

Photos:

•Carousel image credits:

scarpermac, Ade, Earthmomma82, Bollo58, ColinKnight, Bollo58, markhows

What’s in a Name?

Seals are predators of fish, cephalopods and more, and have been observed predating other sea mammals and their own species (see PhD student link below). Seals challenge the observer - they can move fast in water and readily use the cloak of invisibility bestowed by the sea. When they are on shore we should not closely approach, of course, a challenge to the camera equipment/operator. Sounds a bit like a big game safari!
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There are two seal species native to the British Isles: The Common or Harbour Seal and the Grey Seal. Seals cause iSpotters some confusion at times, going by the comments and descriptions in some of the observations in this project. The names can be tricky in themselves - descriptive adjective or Proper Name? Seals often look grey and can be common, including in harbours!
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Perhaps I am not alone in wanting to revisit the main features of the two UK species - so that’s what this iFocus is about, having the features in summary to hand and reviewing some observations. Please add comments here if you would use other features than those listed, or if you have a view on the usefulness of the features listed for the species.
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As well as the observations of our UK native seal species in this project recorded since 01/01/2016 (arbitrary date), there are a few other seal observations listed as Pinnepedia. The following note is from iSpot contributor Gill Sinclair in 2016:
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“Pinnipedia was the old Order-level classification for true seals, eared seals and the walrus, but three Families are now included in the Order Carnivora instead. So Pinnipedia was correct at one level up from Family (which, as you say, is Phocidae for true seals like grey and harbour), but is out of date now…..”

See screenshot of Phocidae taxonomy info in iSpot dictionary in the image carousel. It omits Pinnepedia.
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The Pinnepedia observations were difficult to determine, for example one was deceased and one was a skeleton. They are easy to find searching on Pinnepedia – have a look and see what you think.

Common or Harbour Seal: Phoca vitulina

•Concave head profile adults
•V shaped nostrils meet at the bottom
•Grey or brown/grey
•More uniform pattern of smaller darker spots (though variable)
•Banana pose on land more common in this species
•Round head, short nose/muzzle
•Sometimes described as cute – but this applies to many, esp young, animals!
•Pups born June/July, born brown and ready to swim
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Grey Seal: Halichoerus grypus

•Flat head profile, ‘roman’ nose, elongated muzzle
•Convex head profile in adult males, fleshy around whiskers
•Widely separated eyes
•Parallel nostrils that do not meet
•Mottled brown/grey – blotches irregular
•Males large – but scale can be difficult in the water
•Pup birth varies round UK – Aug SW, Sept/Oct Wales, Nov/Dec E Eng & Scotland
•Pups need c3 weeks on land to feed and shed non-waterproof white coat
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I find the nostrils part quite difficult. I have gleaned the bullet points above from the sources below. Size is little help unless adults of both species are adjacent! But they do haul out in mixed groups at various places round the UK, as some of these observations point up.
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As always, please open the gallery and make visits to some of the observations. There are 300+ observations of Phocidae on iSpot. There are 54 in this selection, those observed from 01/01/2016 (arbitrary date).
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All the 54 have a ‘likely’ ID. Of the 54, 21 had one agreement only, and four had no agreements. Does this mean the ID is not as reliable as we would wish? Or have those confident of the species distinctions just not dropped in? Are the observations with lots of agreements those (or the only ones?) where the photo/description is good for ID? Could one or two be incorrectly ID’ed? Should the family Phocidae be the taxon of safe choice for some of these observations? Avid comment readers will know that there is/has been discussion of how the ‘likely’ banner is or should be allocated on iSpot. So:
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▶️ Where you can add an agreement. PLEASE do.
▶️ If you can add an alternative ID. PLEASE do.
▶️ If you can comment. PLEASE do.
▶️ If you can praise the photo or observation. PLEASE do.
▶️ Please keep an eye on the ❤️iFOCUS User Guide

Some links:
MarLIN, Marine Life Information Network:
https://www.marlin.ac.uk/species/detail/2088
https://www.marlin.ac.uk/species/detail/1995
The Mammal Society – St Andrews Univ PhD student update re her work:
https://www.mammal.org.uk/2021/05/are-grey-seals-contributing-to-the-harbour-seal-decline/
The Mammal Society – download the factsheets on both native seals
https://www.mammal.org.uk/species-hub/full-species-hub/discover-mammals/species-harbour-seal/
https://www.mammal.org.uk/species-hub/full-species-hub/discover-mammals/species-grey-seal/
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Volunteer to curate an ❤️iFocus in a comment on the Guide, or in the Forum

https://www.ispotnature.org/communities/uk-and-ireland/view/project/829309/ifocus-guide
Bookings so far 10/9/21 - Spot, 24/9/21 - you??? 8/10/21 - dejayM
27 Aug 2021
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