About the common seal
In the Dolfinarium you will meet two types of seals: the common seal and the grey seal. The common seal (Phoca vitulina) is slightly smaller than the grey seal and has a rounder head.
Rob, seal, sea lion?
What exactly is the difference between seals, seals and sea lions? It’s actually quite simple: rob is just another name for seal. And no, that doesn’t mean our common seals are all called Rob! Seals and sea lions are both called “pinnipeds,” meaning they are mammals with fins instead of legs. But the fins of seals are not the same as those of sea lions. If you see them walking side by side, you can immediately see the difference: the sea lion can ‘walk’ on its front fins, while seals are more bumpy.
Are you lucky enough to spot an animal up close and unsure whether it is a sea lion or seal? Then find the ears. See those on the outside? Then you face a sea lion. No ears in sight? Then it’s a seal!
Common seals in the wild
In the wild, common seals can be found in coastal areas from temperate to polar seas of the northern hemisphere – including here in the North Sea and Wadden Sea. They are not very fast and agile on land, so they prefer to lie in the water. Have you ever spotted one on a sandbank or beach? Then that is to rest or to mate. But they always stay close to the water so that they can quickly escape into the water if necessary.
By the way, did you know that seals are true predators? The common seal’s diet consists of various types of fish, squid, shellfish and crustaceans. They themselves are eaten by orcas and large shark species.
Common seals are solitary, meaning they like to be alone. But at resting places or during the mating season they gather in large groups. They can sometimes be quite aggressive towards each other!
During the mating season, female seals mate with several males. After a gestation period of eleven months – so they are almost a year pregnant – the young are born. And just like with ‘regular’ dogs, we call them puppies too!
Common seal pups weigh about 12 kilos and should be able to swim right away, because they are often born in places that are flooded again at high tide. Grey seal pups only spend a short time with their mother: after drinking milk from the mother for about four weeks, the young are already on their own.
The common seal is one of the smaller species of seals. Seals move on land by bumping or rolling on their stomachs. They have sharp claws on their small front fins, which they use for scratching, pulling large prey apart and for extra grip on ice floes or slippery rocks.
They also have very sensitive whiskers, which allow them to sense vibrations in the water that their prey leaves behind. That way they can even hunt in murky water!
Common seals have 34 sharp teeth and molars that they use to catch their slippery prey. But they don’t chew with that: they gobble their prey down in one go! That is quite different from how we humans eat – better give us a knife and fork…
Fortunately, the common seal is not endangered in the wild (IUCN red list status: Least Concern). However, many seals, like other sea creatures, are at risk from various factors such as plastic waste, climate change and commercial fishing. Read more about conservation here and learn how you too can help protect the seals.
In the Dolfinarium you will find the common seal here, where you can see them chilling on a sandbank, bumping on the beach and swimming through the water. And during the educational presentations, the seal keeper shows how his animal friends live, what they eat and what the Dolfinarium does to conserve their species in the wild.