Common Seal

(Phoca vitulina)




Facts about this animal

The common or harbour seal is an earless seal, i.e. it lacks outer ears. The head is rounded and the eyes fairly large. The foreflippers are relatively small, flexible and equipped with five digits. The fur (in adults) is stiff and short and lacks appreciable amounts of underfur. Adult males generally measure 1.4-1.9 m in length and weigh 55-170 kg, while the females are smaller, measuring only 1.2-1.7 m in length and weighing 45-105 kg. There is however sone variation in body size within the huge range occupied by the species.


Alaskan and western Pacific harbour seals are significantly larger than those in the Atlantic and those in the more southern areas of the eastern Pacific. Hokkaido seals appear to be the largest with an average length of 1.9 m for adult males and 1.7 m for adult females. Pups are usually born measuring 70-100cm in length and weighing 8-12 kg. Most male harbour seals reach sexual maturity at 5-6 years of age, females earlier at 2-5 years. Male harbour seals have a shorter lifespan than females, possibly due to the stress of competing and fighting during the breeding season. They can live up to around 20 years of age, females to around 25-30 years.

Did you know?
that the milk of common seals contains as much as 45% milk fat? This enables the pup to more than double its weight by the time it's weaned.


Name (Scientific) Phoca vitulina
Name (English) Common Seal
Name (French) Phoque veau-marin
Name (German) Seehund
Name (Spanish) Foca común
Local names Danish: Spættet sæl
Dutch: Gewone zeehond
Finnish: Kirjohylje
Icelandic: Landselur
Norwegian: Steinkobbe
Polish: Foka pospolita
Portuguese: Foca-vitulina
Swedish: Knubbsäl
CITES Status Not listed
CMS Status Appendix II (only Baltic and Wadden Sea populations)



Photo Copyright by
Andreas Trepte



Range From the subtropics to the Arctic around coasts of the North Atlantic and the North Pacific.
Habitat Sheltered waters near rocky shores, sand and gravel beaches, mudflats and sand bars.
Wild population Approx. 350'000-500'000 (IUCN Red List 2011). In the Wadden Sea of Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands the 2006 count revealed a total of 15,426 seals, 8 % more than in the previous year. The maximum number of pups observed during the whelping period (June) was 4,519.
Zoo population 232 reported to ISIS (2007)

In the Zoo

Common Seal


How this animal should be transported

For air transport, Container Note 76 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


Find this animal on ZooLex


Photo Copyright by
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Why do zoos keep this animal

The common seal, having dark, big eyes, a domed forehead and a short muzzle, is a prime exampke for the "kindchenschema" as described by the German ethologist Konrad Lorenz. Lorenz noted that humans react more positively to animals that resemble infants - with big eyes, big heads, shortened noses, etc. - than to animals that do not. The common seal is, therfore, an excellent ambassador species to convey marine conservation messages.

Another reason for keeping common seals may be animal welfare: Every year considerable numbers of "Heuler", abandoned pups, are found in the waddenzee during the breeding period and close thereafter. These animals are weak, ill and with a low bodyweight - less than half the weight for a normal pup of same age. They are usually brought to rescue centres or zoos, and some will stay where they will become very tame, and some of them will be kept permanently at the zoo.