Due to similar morphologies and behaviours, young female grey seals are often mistaken for common seals.

Both may adopt a head-up – tail-up posture when hauled and although they may often appear similar in coat colour, this alone is not a good guide for identification due to the fact their pelage changes colour as it dries out.

Would you be able to tell the difference...?

Bottom image: © Amy the Nurse

 Here are some key identification features:

                 Grey seals - Halichoerus grypus                   Common seals - Phoca vitulina 

 Images: Left © Becca Crow, top right © Tony Fischer, bottom right © Allan Hopkins

                               Short stubbed nose                       Elongated ‘Roman nose’ longer broader snout 

                    Left: Common seal © Andrew Reding Right: Grey seal © Becca Crow

                    Nostrils form ‘V’ shape                           Nostrils parallel – don’t meet at the bottom.


                    Common and grey seal © Becca Crow

     smaller head & concave forehead similar to that of a spaniel                   Larger head, flat profile, no forehead

                       Common and grey seal © Becca Crow     

Indications it may be a common Seal: 

Common seals tend to spread out more when hauled and will display more aggressive behaviour to maintain individual space, including head butting, biting, growling, and waving their fore flippers!

They are also considerably less vocal than grey seals.

Additionally, they will sometimes ‘porpoise’ through the water when travelling, whereby they will surface at frequent intervals, moving forward with a rising and falling motion rapidly through the water. 

Indications it may be a Grey Seal:

Grey seal are often much more closely aggregated at haul out sites than common seals. They also tend to be very vocal and can often be heard both in and out of the water.

Additionally, grey seals  never ‘porpoise’ when travelling!

Here's a few pictures of the common seal I saw on the Calf, unfortunately for me she was quite a distance away but you can still make out all those common seal characteristics!

 Common seal © Becca Crow

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