The Common Seal, Phoca vitulina, (also called the Harbour Seal in North America), is one of three seal species found around the Swedish coast, the other two being the Grey Seal and Ringed Seal. Worldwide, they are the most widely-distributed seal species, found in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. Current global population is estimated to be 400-500,000, though certain populations have been seriously affected by disease epidemics in recent years. In some cases the cause of the decline in some populations remains unknown. For example, a 2007 survey of the shores of the Orkney and Shetland islands showed that around 5,000 common seals had mysteriously “disappeared”.
Common Seals can vary in colour from brown to grey, and are easily recognisable by their V-shaped nostrils. They have very appealing features, with large eyes and “puppy-like” faces, making them irresistible to animal lovers. Coupled with an intelligent and inquisitive nature, this makes Common Seals wonderful subjects for wildlife photography! They have a preference for particular resting spots, often a piece of rock protruding from the water where they can feel safe from predators or human disturbance.
Adult Common Seals can weigh up to 130 kg and females can live up to 35 years (males have a lifespan of only 20-25 years). One possible explanation of the shorter life expectancy of male Common Seals is the considerable stresses they are subjected to during the breeding season, when they will compete for mates in underwater battles with rival males. Female Common Seals give birth to a single pup, which can swim within hours of its birth, fattening quickly on a diet of exceptionally rich milk.
Around the Swedish coast, Common Seals are found in the Baltic Sea in the east as well as in west coast waters. Nature Travels has recently added an exciting new experience giving you the opportunity to visit the Common Seal colony in the area around the Koster Islands in Sweden’s western archipelago by sea kayak – Kayaking with Seals and Koster Island Cycling. The photos in this article were taken during a recent visit to the Koster Island colony.
Sea kayaking is an ideal way to see the beauty of Sweden’s archipelago landscape. A quiet, low-impact mode of transportation, sea kayaking allows you access to remote locations and intimate contact with marine life – a marvellous way to get a seal’s eye view of the world!
Common Seals are a particular attraction for visitors to Swedish archipelago waters, but the Swedish archipelagos are also rich in many other species of wildlife, including some very impressive birds of prey. The Osprey and White-tailed Sea Eagle are both making a strong comeback in the eastern archipelago. While taking a stroll on one of the thousands of forested islands, you may encounter elk, deer, or even a pine marten scurrying from tree to tree about its business.
The archipelagos of Sweden’s east and west coast are a stunning landscape, rich in wildlife and steeped in history. For more information on the Stockholm Archipelago, please see our blog article on the subject here. As well as the Koster Island experience, Nature Travels offers a range of guided sea kayaking tours in both the east and west coast archipelagos. For further details see our website at www.naturetravels.co.uk/category-water.htm
The Nature Travels Team