Our Gower Seals
There are over 30 different species of seal within the world however, within the UK we predominantly only ever see two species, these are the North Atlantic Grey Seal and Common (Harbour) Seal. We occasionally have vagrant seals visit us but these tend to be an unusual and quite exciting sight. These vagrant species include Hooded Seals, Bearded Seals Ringed and Harp Seals.
On Gower, our predominant species is the North Atlantic Grey Seal however we have seen the occasional Common or as it’s sometimes referred to Harbour seal. Seals can be seen off the entire Gower coastline sometimes hauled out on rocky ledges, sandy coves or swimming close to the shoreline.
To help you identify these species please read on as there are distinct differences:
North Atlantic Grey Seal
The UK is home to around 38 percent of the globally rare Grey Seal population and on Gower we have a very small percentage of that number. However, they are amazing to watch and we ask that you do so respectfully, from a distance, quietly and avoid disturbing them at all costs.
Grey seals are large, with males easily weighing up to 350kg and over 2½ metres in length whilst females slightly smaller weighing around 200kg and 1½ to 2metres in length.
Females can live to around 30 – 40 years whilst males around 20 – 25 years.
They have an amazing individual personality and their faces resemble a dog’s face with a distinct long snout and nostrils which are parallel to one another.
Grey seals tend to like rougher seas and are very well adapted for life at sea. They spend 80 percent of their time at sea, 90 percent of that time sub-surface. They feed on sand eels and dragonets but are quite opportunistic and will seek out a range of other fish and crustaceans. Seals are a good sign that fish stocks are healthy otherwise they’d move on.
Grey seals, especially females have a very distinctive pelage (fur pattern) which is as unique as our fingerprints. Males tend to be darker with a less distinctive fur pattern. We use these distinct patterns to identify individual seals as they move between particular locations within the Bristol Channel and Celtic Sea. Unbelievably seals can swim 80 to 100 kilometres in one day!
Grey seal pups are born with white fur (lanugo) between August and January each year. Pups weigh only 10 to 14kg at birth but quickly balloon to around 40kg during the three-week period Mum is feeding it with milk which has a 60 percent fat content! After this time starvation forces Mum to leave and that’s when her pup is vulnerable to the natural elements and human disturbance. Unfortunately, up to 75 percent of pups will die in their first 18 months. This is why Grey Seals are classed as globally rare.
Common or Harbour Seal
Common Seals are far smaller than Grey Seals weighing less than 150kg, measuring on average less than 2 metres. They have a smaller head with a concave forehead and have facial features resembling a cat. Their pelage tends to be darker and made up of spots and smaller ringed patterns.
Their lifespan is similar to Grey Seals with males living 20 to 25 years and females 30 to 35 years.
Common seals are not as hardy as Grey Seals and enjoy calmer seas preferring estuaries and sandy haul out sites hence them being known as Harbour Seals.
They pup between May and August and are born with dark fur as their white coat is shed inside Mum before birth. They too will gain weight quickly before Mum has to leave. Common Seals are more active than their Grey Seal pup counterparts and are seen swimming with Mum during their weaning period.
They too will eat sand eels and are opportunistic feeders on seasonally abundant prey. Again, the presence of this species indicates healthy fish stocks.
Although not common on Gower, they have been observed within the Bristol Channel. At least two Common Seal pups have been welfare checked by trained personnel on Gower over the last two years.
Common Seals tend to swim shorter distances but are still capable of travelling up to 75km in one day.
There are fewer Common Seals within the UK than Grey Seals, but still subject to the same vulnerabilities of natural elements and human disturbance.