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The best seal-watching spots in Britain

Common seal pup. Credit National trust.

Common seal pup. Credit National trust.

By Lizzy Dening

The seal is one of Britain's most charismatic mammals, and populates much of our coastline. Seals are a joy to watch due to their curious nature, often bobbing up in the water around a boat of delighted seal-watchers.

Britain is home to two species of seal, Grey (Halichoerus grypus) and Common (Phoca vitulina). The main difference can be seen in their facial shapes, as Common Seals have short muzzles and V-shaped nostrils while Greys have a longer muzzle and parallel nostrils.

some of the best places to see seals in the UK

Blakeney - Norfolk

From Blakeney Quay numerous boats set out to National Trust site at Blakeney Point. Passengers are ferried past sandbanks covered in basking seals throughout the peak seal-watching season (April-October). Both Common and Grey seals make up a colony of around 500 individuals, and boat companies guarantee passengers will see seals on every journey.

The two species raise young at different points in the year, so it is likely that visitors will see pups. Curious seals often swim around the boats, popping their faces out of the water to have a look. On arrival at the Point, home to numerous seabirds, particularly terns, it is possible to get out and have a stroll.

More about Blakeney National Nature Reserve

Orkney Islands

Orkney has resident populations of both indigenous seal species, the tourist board claims that they can be seen on almost any piece of shoreline. Some seals will often follow you along as you walk, particularly if you whistle. As seals spend 90% of their time on land, it is easy to spot them hauled out, and basking on rocks around the islands.

The waters around the Orkneys are estimated to be home to 25,000 Grey seals, and 7,000 Common seals, so the chances of seeing a seal are extremely high. Another advantage of keeping an eye on the Orkney coast is that there have previously been sightings of Common dolphins, porpoises, Minke whales, Humpback whales, as well as Orcas.

More about the Orkney Islands

Spectacular Cornish Coastline. Copyright Wildlife Extra

Spectacular Cornish Coastline. Copyright Wildlife Extra


According to the Cornwall Seal Group, it is possible to see Grey seals year-round on the Cornish coast. A popular group of six increasingly tame seals inhabit Newquay Harbour, where regular boat trips run. There is also the chance of seeing pods of dolphins along the coast.

In addition to boat trips, Cornwall is home to the National Seal Sanctuary,  in the Helford Estuary, where rescued seals are brought for treatment, and rehabilitation. Along with the native British species, the sanctuary is home to Fur Seals, Californian and Patagonian Sea Lions, and an Arctic Hooded Seal.

More about where to see wildife in Cornwall

Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire

West Wales is home to approximately 5,000 Grey seals. The majority of these are in Pembrokeshire, and at Skomer Island they can be seen year round along with puffins, Manx shearwaters and other coastal birds. The Garland Stone, which lies just off the coast of Skomer, is a great seal spot where seals haul out as the tide recedes, and can be seen, and often heard, from the cliff top opposite.

The advantage of Skomer as a seal-watching spot is that the spread of pupping dates here is wider than in any other breeding colony, although scientists are unsure why. Pups can be seen here from September to December, with the most visible during October; around 160 are born here per year.

More about the wildlife of Skomer Island 

Moray Firth

A second Scottish destination on the list is perhaps not surprising, as 90% of Britain's seal population inhabit Scottish waters. Chanonry Point is a great destination for seal-watching, and there is also a chance to spot Bottlenose dolphins. Common seals haul up on to the beaches to raise their young over the winter, and the rest of the year they never usually venture far from the shoreline.

Another attraction of the area is the Dolphin and Seals Centre, where there are excellent viewing stations and lots of information about resident species.

More about the wildlife of the Moray Firth

Donna Nook seal colony, Lincolnshire
Donna Nook is home to some 3000 Grey seals at certain times of the year, and in 2008 more than 1000 pups were born here.  

For most of the year the Grey seals disperse out to sea or haul out around the coast. However from October - December the seals come to breed near the dunes at Donna Nook. Donna Nook is owned by the MOD as a bombing range. The seals seem remarkably undisturbed by the planes. The reserve covers more than 10 km (6.25 miles) of coastline.

More about Donna Nook

Farne Islands National Nature Reserve

The Farne Islands National Nature Reserve is a renowned seabird site, with 18 to 21 species breeding there regularly. Shags, sandwich terns, roseate terns and arctic terns are present in internationally important numbers and the islands are also an important stop-over site for migrant birds. The reserve is also home to a large grey seal colony.

More about Farne Islands National Nature Reserve



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