Britain's best seal watching spots

As grey seal pupping season approaches, explore coastal coves and beaches to observe this charismatic animal basking on the British shoreline

29th September 2015

The grey seal is one of Britain’s most charming mammals, with just under half of their global population inhabiting coastal waters of the UK. Autumn hails the start of the pupping season which begins from as early as mid-September and lasts through to January depending on the colony and location. Their curious nature and cuddly appearance makes these animals bewitching to watch and this season is the perfect time to observe them as mothers and pups bask on beaches, sand banks and rocky outcrops.

Best seal-spotting locations

1. Orkney Islands, Scotland

Boasting a resident population of 25,000 grey seals and 7,000 of their smaller relatives the common seal, the Orkney Islands are a perfect place to experience some seal action. Grey seals begin to pup here in October and can be observed on most beaches, remaining on land to suckle for 18 to 21 days after birth to build up their hefty insulating blubber jackets - pups can gain up to 2kg in weight a day!

2. Blakeney, Norfolk

Within the Blakeney National Nature Reserve, basking common and grey seals can be seen on the 3 mile sandbank stretch of Blakeney Point. The two species give birth at different times of the year, with the greys pupping between November and January. In 2014, 2426 pups were born there.

3. Mutton Cove at Godrevy Point, West Cornwall

A resident colony of grey seals can be viewed in this sheltered bay at low tide (the beach is submerged at high tide) from the cliff tops. Located nearby is the Godrevy lighthouse thought to be the inspiration for Virginia Woolfs novel ‘To the Lighthouse’.

4. Donna Nook, Lincolnshire

Home to around 3,000 grey seals, this seal watching paradise has viewing areas at the foot of the sand dunes from which you can observe the seals that come to breed and pup here between October and December.

5. Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire

This 750-acre island bursts with wildlife, hosting the largest colonies of breeding seabirds in Britain including Manx Shearwaters, puffins and kittiwakes. Seals can be seen all year round, with the Garland Stone just off the coast being an excellent place to watch them lazily bask in the sun. October is the peak time to view pups and around 160 are born per year.

6. Monach Isles in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland

This group of uninhabited low-lying islands are a refuge to a large breeding colony of grey seals. October is the month to go when many pups are born. Visits should only be in calmer weather, with sailing and navigating the rocky shores being difficult on wilder days.

7. Farne Islands, Northumberland

The mesmerising sight of the largest grey seal colony along the east coast of Britain is a goose bump worthy spectacle. This National Nature Reserve is the birthing site of around 1,000 pups a year and seals can be seen basking on rocks at low tide. Boat trips are available here and seals often pop up alongside boats to investigate, their heads bobbing amongst the waves.

8. Horsey Gap, Norfolk

The vast beach, flat sand, shallow waters and towering dunes providing respite from the wind offer seals with an ideal location for giving birth. Designated viewing areas are present from which the seals can be observed at a safe distance (despite their plump and cuddly appearance grey seals have a powerful bite). These long sandy stretches are remarkably tranquil and free from visitors, so bring a picnic and explore this pristine shoreline.

9. Moray Firth, Scotland

Famous for its resident population of bottlenose dolphins, this area is also excellent for seals. Chanonry Point is a popular location to view these remarkable creatures. Check out the nearby Dolphin and Seal Centre in North Kessock while you're there to complete your marine mammal experience. 

10. Falmouth, Cornwall

The calm waters of Falmouth Bay support a vast assemblage of marine life including dolphins and porpoises as well as the delightful grey seal. Seals are often seen on Black Rock near to Pendennis Point.

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