We are blessed that we have a thriving community of seals in Cornwall.
The close knit team at Padstow Sealife Safaris adore taking visitors out spotting the grey seals that are so plentiful around the Cornwall coast. We’ve got lots of information about seals in Cornwall packed into this useful guide, so when you come seal spotting off Padstow, you’ll be clued up on these beautiful sea mammals.
First off here’s 10 super cool seal facts:
Where are grey seals located in the UK?
Grey seals are mostly located in the colder, northern waters of the UK. However, there are also significant breeding colonies situated off the coast of Lincolnshire, Wales, Northumberland, and also here in Cornwall. Grey seals are a fairly common sight around our coastline and our safaris will take visitors to coves and offshore islands where you’re likely to spot some.
Grey seals are actually a globally rare species. We’ve got about 40% of the world grey seal population just in UK waters. However, to put it into perspective, there are still fewer grey seals in the UK than red squirrels. So here at Padstow Sealife Safaris, we’re lucky to see as many as we do; spotting them on around 95% of our trips!
Guide to seals in Cornwall and the UK
There are two main species of seal living in the seas around the British Isles: the grey seal and the common seal. Surprisingly, the common seal is actually less common than the grey seal but both can found around the coastline and are protected species. Other seals occasionally visiting British waters include the harp seal, the ringed seal and the hooded seal, but it’s doubtful you’ll see these on your Padstow Sealife Safari. Although common seal sightings in Cornwall are rare, grey seals are a regular sighting on our safari trips. Just under half of the world’s grey seal population lives in the waters around Britain, and their numbers have doubled since the 1960s. Check out our grey seal FAQs to find out more.
Seal spotting off Padstow
Though they are a common sight on Padstow Sealife Safari, that doesn’t mean they are easy to find in general – it’s just that we know where to look. Grey seals play and hunt at sea at high tide, and then haul themselves on to remote beaches, offshore rocks or sea caves to rest and digest their food at low tide. Keep an eye out for their curious heads popping up out of the water or them blending in with the rocks having a sunbathe!
What do seals eat?
Grey seals feed predominantly on small bait fish like sand eel and dragonet, but, here in Cornish waters, they will also feed on mackerel and herring, flatfish like plaice as well as skates, and rays. They are quite opportunistic though, and will chomp down on just about anything they can grab a hold of including, squid and crustaceans, like crab and lobster. Bigger meals that are too awkward to swallow down in one, they will hold in their flippers at the surface and tear chunks off (just like the picture).
Are seals mammals?
Yes, seals are mammals, which means they’re warm-blooded, feed their young with milk, and breathe air. They’ve adapted to doing this all while living much of their lives in the water. Pretty amazing if you ask us!
What is a baby seal called?
A baby seal is known as a pup and a female grey seal will produce just one pup each year. She feeds her pup with milk she produces in her mammary glands which has extremely high-fat content (about 60% fat) in order to build up the pup’s blubber reserves so it can survive in the cold sea water.
A grey seal pup only stays with its mother for the first three weeks of its life so every drop of milk counts. In fact, just within those first few weeks, the seals will grow up to three or four times their original birth weight. After that their mother heads off and leaves them to discover the world on their own.
What’s the difference between a seal and a sea lion?
Seals are members of the ‘true seal’ family which includes grey seals, common (or harbour) seals, leopard seals and elephant seals; whereas seal lions are members of the ‘eared seal’ family which also includes fur seals. Seals and sea lions are both pinnipeds, meaning “winged foot”, referring to their webbed flippers. True seals have much smaller flippers and caterpillar along on the land to move. They also do not have external ‘ears’, instead just small holes either sides of their head. Eared seals have longer flippers with their hind flippers bending under their body like feet, enabling them to waddle on land and be faster and more agile in the water. They also have external ear flaps.
Are seals dangerous?
Here in Cornwall, grey seals (males in particular) grow to very large sizes. Like all animals, seals will defend themselves if they feel threatened and female seals will be protective of their pups. It is advised never to approach a seal, try to touch one, or swim up to them in the water as they may be unsure of your intentions and get defensive. As long as seals are treated with respect and given the space they need, they are beautiful animals to observe. Rest assured when you’re on board a Padstow Sealife Safari trip, we keep a respectful distance and monitor the seals’ body language to ensure they are happy and calm in our presence.
Are seals related to dogs?
There are no close connections between seals and dogs which is surprising especially as the grey seal is known for its Labrador shaped head. Seals, dogs and also bears are all part of the Caniformes group of animals, which means dog-like, and both seals and dogs are mammals but that’s as close as they come.
What is a group of seals called?
A group of seals is known as a colony, a rookery or a herd. However, grey seals are often solitary and will hunt and travel alone, only coming together to rest in safe places or to breed.
What noise does a seal make?
Seals can make a variety of noises, including honks, snarls, hissing, and roars. Pups make noises similar to crying, human babies.
Should you feed seals?
You should NEVER feed seals! Seals are extremely efficient hunters and do not need handouts from people. Feeding seals creates an association between boats or people and food, and if seals become accustomed to coming close to boats, they are then at high risk of a boat strike. Humans dangling a fish for a seal put themselves at risk of a very nasty bite if the seal mistakes your arm or hand or food.
Are seals endangered?
Grey Seal numbers in the UK have recovered from a huge decline when they were previously hunted and have now reached steady numbers. Here in the UK, the conservation status of resident seals is considered to be of least concern. Even though they are rare, they are not endangered but they are a protected species. Elsewhere in the world, some species are endangered and their natural habitats are under continual threat.
Best way to spot seals off Cornwall
Using our expertise and experience, we can help you track down these lovable creatures during your visit to Cornwall. You have the option of a two-hour Sealife Safari boat trip. Or, you could go straight to a Seal Safari on a one-hour boat trip for the best possible chance of seeing these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.
Well, there you have it. If you need to know anything more about seals in Cornwall and the UK, feel free to ask any of the team at Padstow Sealife Safaris, we’re more than happy to answer your queries.