Scotland is arguably the best place in the world to see Atlantic grey seals. The number and spread of grey seals around Scotland makes them fairly easy to see in many places around the country’s lengthy and attractive coast.
What to look for
Adult grey seals have fairly long heads and can have a ‘Roman-nosed’ profile, in contrast to the more dog-like features of the common seal. You need to be wary though - a young grey seal can have quite rounded features. Look at the nostrils. A grey’s are near-parallel slits, a common’s slant down in a ‘V’. Grey seals are often quite curious about people, so you might see one or more watching you from offshore as you watch them.
Grey seals can travel enormous distances. Journeys between the Moray Firth in north-east Scotland and the Farne Islands in the north of England are fairly easy for them. One grey seal was tracked by satellite from Scotland to the Faroe Islands and down to Ireland before its transmitter battery failed.
When and where to see
The biggest grey seal breeding colonies (where the animals come ashore to pup and mate in October and November) are on very remote islands. Best watching is outside the breeding season, when groups haul-out to loaf (and sometimes sing) on skerries and rocky promontories. Go with an accredited wildlife tour operator to see both grey and common seals in many places.