Scientific Name: Halichoerus grypus
Gray seals can dive over 200 feet underwater.
If you see a gray seal go underwater, it may be a while before you see it surface again. Gray seals are great swimmers and can stay underwater for up to 20 minutes! These aquatic animals enjoy spending their time in the water so much, they only return to land to mate and molt.
STATUS: Not endangered, however, their numbers have declined due to hunting and poaching. Seals have also been lost as a result of drowning in fishing nets and diseases produced by heavy pollution. Despite this population loss, protected status keeps the species at lower risk of extinction.
HABITAT: There are three primary gray seal populations. The greatest populations are in the western Atlantic and off the coast of the British Isles. The western Atlantic population lives off the coast of Nova Scotia and may be found as far south at Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. The smallest of the gray seal populations is in the Baltic Sea.
DIET: Gray seals feed on any fish available in their habitat. They also enjoy certain crustaceans and mollusks.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: An easy way to distinguish between male and females is by their size. The adult male gray seal typically grows to eight ft long, and may weight more than 700 lbs. The adult female is much smaller at 6 ft long and is weighs at least 1/3 less than males. Much of their size is from their blubber, thick layers of fat used for warmth and buoyancy. Pups are white when born, while adult coats vary in color with shades of gray, brown, and silver. Many are also spotted.
Gray seals are exceptional swimmers and divers, which is helpful for hunting and catching prey deep underwater. They also have strong vision for dim underwater light. Their long, webbed hind flippers and their muscular bodies allow great speed and precision in underwater movement. In order to propel through the water, each flipper expands and contracts to create a thrust in a particular direction. The fore flippers are used to steer. Interestingly, gray seals also have five long slender claws on their fore flippers which they use to pull themselves forward on dry land.