Around half of the world’s Atlantic grey seals live in UK waters and the coastline of the South West of England is one of the best places of all to spot these fascinating mammals.
An adult male Atlantic grey seal is a very large animal, weighing up to 300kg. That’s around 100kg more than a fully grown red deer stag. Females are smaller, reaching around 190kg.
Grey seals can dive to depths of as much as 70 metres. This allows them to prey on a wide range of fish and crustaceans, from seabed dwelling flat fish through to crabs living in shallow water. They possess high levels of haemoglobin in their blood which boosts the oxygen supply around their bodies. The result is they are able to remain underwater for up to 15 minutes, although five minute dives are more usual.
Telling one from another
Atlantic grey seals are much bigger than the UK’s other seal species, the harbour seal. The latter also has a markedly rounder face than the grey’s more elongated, dog-like profile.
The coats of grey seals can vary greatly in colour but females usually appear lighter than males. It’s also worth looking for scarring around the necks of seals. This is a good indication that the seal is a mature bull. The scars are a legacy of battles with other males.
Where to see Atlantic grey seals?
The hotspots on the North Devon coast include between Morte Point and Rockham Bay (near Mortehoe), Hartland Point, sand bars in the mouth of the Taw-Torridge Estuary (best viewing spot is Crow Point, Braunton Burrows) and around Lundy Island.
On the South Devon coast try the Mewstone Rock, at the mouth of the River Dart (best viewed from Froward Point), at Peartree Point, west of Start Point, and around Hope Cove (near Kingsbridge).
Want to know more? Use the new on-line ‘species finder’ at www.devonwildlifetrust.org/wildlife-explorer
Images by Alex Mustard