What species of seals can be found around Scottish coasts?
The two species of seal commonly found around Scottish coasts are the grey seal, Halichoerus grypus, and the common (or harbour) seal, Phoca vitulina.
The grey seal is the larger of the two species, with the males weighing up to 350 kg and growing to over 2.3 metres in length. They are generally long-lived animals, with individuals often living for over 30 years. Grey seals come ashore on remote islands and coastlines to give birth to their pups in the autumn, to moult in spring, and at other times of year to haul out between foraging trips at sea.
Common seals are generally more dispersed in nature than grey seals. They come ashore in sheltered waters typically on sandbanks and in estuaries (although in some cases on rocky shores) where they give birth to their pups in June and July and moult in August. At other times of the year common seal's haul out on land regularly in a pattern related to the tidal cycle. Common seals typically weigh about 80 to 100 kg, and, like grey seals, are long-lived, with individuals living up to 20 to 30 years.
What is the current status of common and grey seal populations in Scottish waters?
The latest information on Scottish and UK seal populations can be found in the latest annual Special Committee on Seals Report.
How are these seals protected?
The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 (the Act) introduced significant changes to seal legislation with enhanced seal protection measures balanced by appropriate management under a new licensing system. Under the Act it is illegal to shoot a seal anywhere in Scotland unless a licence has been granted under strict conditions.
The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 earmarked Seal Conservation Areas to offer additional protection to sensitive and potentially vulnerable common seal populations in specific areas (Northern Isles, Firth of Tay, Moray Firth and Western Isles).
The Marine (Scotland) Act also provides additional protection for seals against harassment at 194 designated haul-out sites - the locations on land where seals come ashore to rest.
Under the EC Habitats Directive both common and grey seals are identified as protected species for which Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) must be designated, and for which the UK has special responsibility. Within SACs, steps must be taken to avoid both deterioration of habitats and significant disturbance of species, in order to maintain the 'favourable conservation status' of grey and common seals. there are six SACs for grey seals (representing 47% of pup production) and 8 SACs for common seals (18% of the Scottish population).