Harbour Seal - Phoca vitulina

Status: Least Concern … Extremely shy on land, they will often become playful with humans in the water

Type: Mammal

Location: One of the most widespread seals - found in coastal waters throughout the Northern Hemisphere, from temperate to Polar regions.

Size: Adult males can grow up to 1.9 m long and 70-150 kg in weight. Females are slightly smaller.

Habitat: Harbour seals are mainly found in the coastal waters of the continental shelf and slope, and also commonly found in bays, rivers, estuaries and intertidal areas.


Main Threats: Many of the coastal areas that harbour seals live in are heavily fished. This means that harbour seals are often caught as bycatch or become entangled in fishing gear. Over fishing and global climate change may also impact the food chains that harbour seals depend upon for prey.

Outbreaks of viruses have killed thousands of harbour seals on both sides of the Atlantic, but especially in Europe. In 1988 more than 20,000 harbour seals are estimated to have died from a distemper virus epidemic in European waters. A similar outbreak in 2002 killed approximately 30,000. Harbour seals haul out on the near shore often at coastal mainland sites – where they come into contact with waste from humans, pets, feral animals, and it is thought this presents an increased risk of exposure to these types of diseases.

Oil leaks, discharges and major oil spills are responsible for the death of many harbour seals each year and have long-term impacts on harbour seal health and their environment.

Harbour seals also take many commercially important fish species such as Atlantic cod, many kinds of salmon, herring, and flatfishes, and this aspect of their foraging puts them into conflict with coastal fisheries. Licensed killing to protect fisheries is allowed in UK, (Canada and USA) and occasionally used where other deterrents such as weighted nets and acoustic devices have been unsuccessful.

Foraging seals can come into conflict with coastal fisheries


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