Come and see our huge population of Seals!
Although you’d be lucky to catch a glimpse of some of the more elusive Orkney creatures, such as the Orkney Vole or the Hen Harrier, there’s one particular animal that you’re almost guaranteed to see when you visit the Orkneys.
15% of the world’s population of seals call the Orkneys home, however only two species (out of 33 known to science) breed, birth and bask on the Britain’s beaches. Although a full count has not been done for over a decade, in 2007 it was estimated that there somewhere between 25,000 and 27,000 seals living in and around the Orkneys (for comparison the standing population of people is around 20,000).
Grey seals are the dominant species and although their numbers were rising year-on-year for a long time, they have dropped significantly in the last 10 years to 50% of their previous numbers. Despite this they are far from being endangered, unlike many of their fellow marine creatures. With an approximate number of 7,000 making their home around the Orkneys there are plenty of sighting opportunities for wildlife fanatics who love nothing more than spending a day hiding out on a sand dune with a thermos flask, binoculars and camera.
We’ve scoured the internet for some interesting facts about our seals – we hope you enjoy them!
Seals, both common and grey, love to bask on the beaches of Orkney for a number of reasons: our beaches are mercifully free of predators, apart from a scattering of tourists the beaches are usually very quiet, giving them enough peace to go about their business. Although they’re generally considered to be friendly, inquisitive creatures it’s still best to keep your distance as their behaviour is unpredictable.
The common seal (also known as the ‘Harbor seal‘) is one the most populous of its species, there are somewhere between 350,00 and 500,00 around the world. You’ll be able to recognise them by their V-shaped nostrils, but each seal will still look completely different from the next one. Their colours can vary from grey to a dark brown, or even tan.
The seals’ lifecycle is an interesting one. During most of the year seals are solitary creatures, they only gather in larger numbers to breed and to give birth. The gestation period of a seal is the same as a human being: 9 months. Baby seals mature very quickly, born at around 16kg they take on weight very quickly whilst feeding from their mothers’ fatty milk, often weighing twice as much within a month. They can also swim and dive within hours of being born!
Seals are known as ‘selkies‘ in the Orcadian dialect and come with their own strange and unique folklore. Similar to the naval stories of mermaids, selkies have been described as both gentle creatures as well as malicious trouble-makers. According to the tales selkies have the ability to ‘shapeshift’ from their seal form into human bodies, this transformation is described as them casting off their seal skins. It’s unclear as to when or how often this transformation can take place, with some sources suggesting it only happens at Midsummer’s Eve or simply whenever the selkie-folk choose.