We had a most unusual visitor to New Quay today (4th January 2012) in the form of a young common seal. Common seals, also known as harbour seals, are not commonly seen around the coasts of Wales.
Britain is home to about 40% of the world populations of the grey seals and historically there have been only a few sightings of common seals along the Welsh coasts. These few sightings have mainly been along the north Wales coast around Anglesey and Bardsey Island and along the south Wales coast but the majority of common seals in the UK are found around the coasts of Scotland and along the east and south coasts of England.
You can compare the difference between an Atlantic grey seal and a common (harbour) seal in the second row of images above. The common seal (middle image) has "v" shaped nostrils and a more defined forehead whilst the grey seal (left and right images) has a much flatter forehead and its nostrils are parallel with a much wider septum between the nostrils.
Unlike their name suggests common seals are actually not so common. In the last few years scientists have seen a dramatic decline in the number of common seals in Scottish waters. There are a few theories as to why the common seals in Scotland are in decline and one of these is that they face competition for food from the more robust Atlantic grey seals. I wonder where todays visitor came from?
UPDATE: Having contacted the RSPCA West Hatch Centre we have some very sad news. Unfortunately the seal had to be euthanised upon arrival as it was having breathing difficulties and had gone down hill rapidly and would not be able to recover. Common (harbour) seals are not as hardy as Atlantic Grey seals and we have had some terrible storms in the Irish Sea over recent weeks which may have contributed to the seals weakened state.
Thanks to Dave Jarvis BDMLR and Sue Sayer from Cornwall Seal Group for confirming our thoughts as to the species identity of the seal.