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Solent Seals Project

Grey seal by Paul NaylorGrey seal by Paul Naylor

Many people are surprised to learn that our busy coasts and seas are home to some of the largest and most charismatic predators found in the UK, seals.

The UK hosts about 30% - 40% of the worlds population of both grey and harbour seals. Recent studies have suggested that numbers of harbour seals are in steep decline, but grey seal numbers appear to be on the increase. Seals are a conservationally important species, and therefore are protected under legislation.

Seals in the Solent

A small population of approximately 20 – 25 harbour seals live in the Solent area, often being seen in Chichester and Langstone Harbours and feeding off the Isle of Wight and up Southampton Water. Less common are grey seals, that seem to pass through the area, sometimes staying for a period of time. Watch our film of seals in Chichester Harbour.

Solent Seal Project

Common Seal by Mark HeighesVery little is known about the Solent seals so to find out more and help to conserve them the Trust set up a joint project with Chichester Harbour Conservancy and the Sea Mammal Research Unit. Five harbour seals were fitted with electronic tags that recorded their position every few minutes for up to six months. These tags have highlighted important resting and feeding areas, information that helps us to ensure these vital sites are considered in local management and conservation plans.

For more information on the project and a copy of the final project report please email Amy.Marsden@hiwwt.org.uk

Telling the difference

  • Grey seals, Halichoerus grypus, are usually found in rocky areas such as SW England, Wales and Scotland.
  • Harbour (common) seals, Phoca vitulina, prefer more sheltered sand and mud banks found on the east English coast.

The two species can be difficult to tell apart but grey seals are larger and have a longer straighter muzzle, sometimes described as a roman nose, harbour seals have more of a dog like muzzle, a bit like a labrador.

What to do if you see a seal

Seals are easily disturbed, if you are lucky enough to see one please follow this code of conduct.

You can report your sightings online on the marine mammal recording form