Grey Seals: The Basics

Male, female and pup (photo A. Bishop)

Scientific Name: Halichoerus grypus   

(This roughly translates to ‘hook-nosed sea pig’)

Grey seals are members of the ‘true seal’ (or Phocid) family. Unlike Otariids (sea lions), true seals have no external ear flaps and have shorter/stubbier fore-flippers. Also, true seals cannot rotate their pelvis to ‘walk’ on land and instead move on land in an undulating fashion.



Male Grey Seal (Photo A. Bishop)

 Description: Males are the larger of the two sexes. They are distinct in that they typically have large, ‘Roman’ noses. Males are also typically a darker color of grey/brown with a spattering of light spots and can have numerous scars from past fights.

 Size:                2-3m

        Weight:         300-400kg



Female Grey Seal (Photo A. Bishop)

Description: The daintier of the two sexes, female grey seals have a less pronounced arched nose. They often have lighter grey pelage (fur) color with spattering of dark grey splotches.

Size:                2-2.5m

Weight:         200-250kg



A newborn pup, still with a white coat. (Photo A. Bishop)

When grey seal pups are first born they still have a fluffy-white coat called a ‘lanugo’ which keeps them warm until they can develop an insulating layer of blubber from their mother’s   milk. They will keep this distinct white coat for two weeks or so, at which time they begin to molt. After approximately 16 days, at the weaning stage, pups will have entirely lost their white coat and will have a unique grey/dark grey pelage and patterning that will remain the same through adulthood!

 Weight: 16kg (birth weight) to +60kg (weaning weight 16 days later!!)



Grey seals are found only in the North Atlantic and the Baltic Sea. In the west Atlantic, grey seals are found as far south as Massachusetts and range northward along the Canadian coast. In the eastern Atlantic and Baltic region, the vast majority of grey seals are found along the UK coastline, Iceland, Norway and Denmark.


Wild female grey seals can live upwards of 30 years while males have a slightly shorter lifespan around 25 years.


Grey seals are ‘opportunistic feeders’: meaning that they have a wide variety in their diets. They can eat fish, squid/octopus, or crustaceans.  Grey seals are amazing divers, and can dive to depths greater than 400 m in search of food. Even more impressive, grey seals can  hold their breath for over an hour!

References and for more information:


One response to “Grey Seals: The Basics

  1. Pingback: Seals Don’t Like Salt Water! | Studying Seals·

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