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  Female grey seal at Cupsogue Beach County Park

Grey Seals

(Halichoerus grypus)

Gallery of grey seal photos

These large seals inhabit remote islands and shoals on both sides of the northern Atlantic. In North America most live along the Canadian Maritime provinces, although smaller numbers are found along the shores of New England. Their distinctive long nose has earned them the name of "horsehead." Their scientific name means "hook-nosed pig of the sea." Grey seals have color patterns that are similar to, but bolder than those of harbor seals.

Grey seals are sexually dimorphic in size.  Males grow to 8 feet and weigh about 800 pounds, while females are smaller, growing to 7 feet and weighing about 400 pounds. Female grey seals are estimated to live to at least their mid 30's. Males are estimated to reach only their mid 20's, which may be a result of the fierce competition between males for mating rights with the females.  The mating system for grey seals is polygynous (poly = many; gyny = female), in which males mate with many different females.    Mating occurs on land and at sea. 

In March 2006, CRESLI's Dr. A. Kopelman discovered a previously unknown probable grey seal rookery on Little Gull Island, in Long Island Sound.  Prior to then, the nearest grey seal pupping area was thought to be in Nantucket Sound, on Muskeget Island, west of Nantucket Island. The status of this  potential rookery has yet to be confirmedGrey seal rookery, Little Gull island

Breeding takes place on rocky or sandy islands or land fast ice after pups are weaned. Newborn pups averaging 3 feet and weighing about 35 pounds are born in January and February. Pups are born with a creamy white coat called lanugo ( a reminder of their ancestral association with ice), which is shed shortly before the mother leaves them at about 3 weeks of age. Unlike the harbor seal, grey seal pups are rather helpless, staying on land in the birth area while the mother attends to them. The mother will leave the pup to feed, and upon return will recognize her offspring by its unique smell. Mothers are fiercely protective of their young.


Grey seal  eating bunker  near Plum Gut

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