A seal's body is shaped like a torpedo rounded from head to feet. They have no ear flaps, the ears are a tiny hole on the side of their heads. They have closable ears and nostrils so that no water can fill their ears or nose when they are under water. Their hands and feet are called fore and hind flippers and help the seal glide effortlessly underwater. Seals have a layer of fat underneath their skin called Blubber. It is important for three things, (1) it keeps them warm in the cold water, (2) helps them to float in the water and (3) gives them energy reserves during times of fasting. For example, a mother will not eat for 3 to 4 weeks while looking after her newborn pup. Grey Seals have excellent vision. Their large black eyes allow lots of light to enter the pupil, allowing them to see in very dim light conditions. They have a protective third eyelid (like swimming goggles) that wipes sand away. They have no tear ducts, so they produce tears continually to wash their eyes. On land, they are able to restrict the amount of light entering the eye through their pupils. Seals have sensory whiskers called vibrissae that are very important for hunting and finding food, these virissea help them find their prey buried in the sand. They also help detect movement in the water from some distance away. Grey Seals can be recognized by their large 'Roman' nose and parallel nostrils. The colour of their fur coat can range from light grey to brown, with blotches of a darker colour over their bodies.
In Ireland, Grey seals are a Protected Species under the Irish Wildlife Act, 1976 and The EU’s Marine Mammal Protection Act, 1972.
Credit: Irish Seal Sanctuary
Swimming with Seals - Don`t be afraid, Be aware
By Johnny Woodlock - Irish Seal Sanctuary
Yes seals look cute, especially when they are young, There is something about those big eyes. But don’t be fooled, remember that they eat fish and have sharp teeth to grip them. Trying to touch a seal of any size is not advised and they can transmit a nasty type of cellulitis which is hard to heal.
With growing numbers of year round sea swimmers and increasing numbers of seals the numbers of interactions between swimmers and seals is sure to increase. No one need worry if a few basic facts are observed.
Seals and all marine animals have a poor ability to investigate if something in their environment is edible. The only way a seal can check something out, is with its teeth or its claws which are formidable. As stated they eat fish so are predators. If they can eat a fish in a net they will, little effort involved. Some seals have discovered that birds can be easy food. It may be distressing for us to see a seal eating a swan but that’s how nature works. Most healthy swans will avoid seals. They can become trapped if not enough room to take off. People, especially sea swimmers, do not for some reason see seals as the large predators that they are. There have been incidents where a swimmer has been approached by a seal and had the seal rake them with their claws. Snorkelers often report that the seals have nipped at their flippers. This is just curious behaviour. They do eat other seals and porpoises when they can catch them. A seal could do very serious injury to a person if it wished to, but why would it? Certainly if a seal decided to be aggressive to a swimmer it would be very serious for the swimmer, but we have not heard of any aggressive behaviour even if to some swimmers it may seem so. In many cases it can be a single seal in the area which approaches swimmers but individual seals move around the coastline surprising distances. The big head of a seal close by your face would give anyone a fright, Seals do play with each other in the water and it can be rough, so you do not want one “playing” with you.
I would advise any sea swimmer that if they are uncomfortable in the water with a seal to simply get out, In general the seal will lose interest after an initial investigation but you are in their environment and they are predators. Accidents do happen, but can be avoided in most cases. Don’t attempt to handfeed seals or to make them “tame”. There is plenty of room in the sea for both seals and swimmers. Don’t be afraid. be aware!.
The Grey seals breed in the autumn and the young seals will often come ashore either confused or simply to rest. These young seals are often weaned pups who have been left to fend for themselves by their mothers. They have built up a big layer of blubber which they use while learning how to feed and catch normal prey, but they can use this blubber up fast. In these first few weeks they lose a lot of weight,, this is normal. In general these seals are fine and in no danger so there is no need to “rescue” them. They will most likely head off with the next tide. A sick seal pup will be obviously in need, skinny and lethargic. But many are needlessly removed from the shore each year, by well intentioned people. Seal pups can move fast and have a nasty bite so kids and dogs are at risk. If in doubt contact either the Irish Seal Sanctuary or Seal rescue Ireland and they can assess if the pup is in trouble. Most times it is not. Grey seals breed from Sept to about February. The smaller Common or harbour seal breeds in early summer.
The truth is you are much more likely to be hurt by a jellyfish.