Scientific Name: Halichoerus grypus
The gray seal has a long nose and large nostrils and is often called horsehead in Canada and in Latin translates to "hooked-nose pig of the sea." The adult male gray seal is dark-gray to black with light silver-gray patches, while the females are light silver-gray with dark spots and patches. Gray seal pups are born with long, creamy white fur that they shed within the first 3 weeks of life. Adult gray seals weigh between 150-310 kilograms (330-685 pounds) and their length ranges between 1.8-2.5 meters (6-8 feet).
The worldwide total of gray seals is approximately 290,000 to 300,000. There are three different populations of gray seals. The largest population is found in the Eastern Atlantic which ranges from the Southwest coast of Iceland, Faeroe Islands, and British Isles to some even scattered onto the coast of Northwest Russia, French, Dutch, German and Portugal coasts. It has an estimated population of 130,000 to 140,000. The second largest population is found in the Western Atlantic, along the coastline of Canada from Cape Chidley to Nova Scotia and has an estimated population of 150,000. The smallest population of gray seals is found in the Baltic Sea and has an estimated population of 7,500.
Gray seals are not migratory animals, although they do gather in large groups to breed and then tend to disperse after breeding. Breeding season varies for each population. In Canada the gray seals reproduce between mid-December and early-February, in the British Isles between late July and December, in the Baltic Sea between February and April and breeding peeks in October for Iceland and Norway.
A gray seal diet consists of various types of fish, squid, octopus, and crustaceans such as shrimp. Gray seals will not pass up a meal and have been known to eat a seabird or two here and there. Besides the gray seal's natural predators such as killer whales and sharks, they are threatened by humans. The populations of gray seals found in the Baltic Sea are on the endangered species list according to IUCN. The Baltic Sea is one of the most polluted bodies of water and as a result the gray seals are becoming ill, disrupting their reproductive cycle. Human activity interferes with gray seal activity, mostly from the fisheries. Gray seal are considered a nuisance and will often be shot to prevent damage to the fishing nets and gear of the fisherman. Additionally, many gray seals that become entangled in fishing gear, including nets and fishing lines die each year.
Research Links Related to Gray Seal:
- Gray Seal pup
Black & white photo of gray seal pup.
- Museum of Zoology - Animal Diversity Web - University of Michigan -- Gray Seal
Fact sheet, economic importance, and conservation status.
- National Zoo - Gray Seal
FONZ website (Friends of the National Zoo). Fact sheet with photo. Gray seal name, Halichoerus grypus means "hooked-nosed sea pig."
- NOAA - Gray Seal
Links to other websites, including OBIS (Ocean Biogeographic Information System).
- Pinnipeds.org -- Gray Seal
History and status of seals, lifestyle, statistics, and birth information.
- Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies -- ID of Harbor, Gray, Harp, Hooded and Ringed Seals
Male and female differences. Drawings and photos of seal heads.
- Smithsonian Museum of Natural History - Gray Seal
Basic fact sheet, distribution map, length, weight, photos.
- Spook, the oldest living gray seal
Article and photos about Spook, the oldest living gray seal.