There are two species of seal that you can spot in British waters – the common and the grey. Both are a delight to watch as they play in the waves, and their inquisitive natures mean they’ll often approach you, whether you’re on land or bobbing around in the water with them. The two species raise their young at different times of the year, so whenever you go seal-spotting it’s likely that you’ll see pups.
It’s thought that there are some 25,000 grey and 7,000 common seals in the waters around the Orkney Islands (above), so you’re almost guaranteed to spot some basking on the rock skerries at low tide. They’re friendly and curious – if you walk along the shoreline whistling or singing, you may find they start swimming alongside you. The Brough of Birsay (above) is a beautiful and serene spot for seal-watching, but do check the tide times before you set out. Lucky visitors might also spot dolphins, porpoises or even a humpback whale.
The Scilly Isles (above)
Scilly Seals Snorkelling, based in St Martins, runs trips to the Eastern Isles, which are a seal stronghold. Once you’re in the water, you can expect to see plenty of seals weaving playfully in and out of the forests of kelp – they may even nibble on your fins if you’re lucky. Other companies run boat trips out to the Western Rocks, where you can spot basking seals during good weather.
Blakeney Point, Norfolk
This four-mile-long stretch of sand and shingle (above) is one of the most famous seal-spotting sites in Britain. Take a boat from Morston or Blakeney Quay across to Blakeney Point, and you’re almost guaranteed to be rewarded with a sighting of some of the 500 animals that have made it their home. Seals bask on the sandbanks at the far end, and those in the water often swim right up to the boats for a closer look. Access to the western end is restricted from November to mid January, during the pupping season for grey seals.
The Farne Islands, Northumberland
Just off the Northumberland coast, the dramatic and inhospitable Farne Islands (above) are home to several thousand seals – more than 1,000 pups are born every autumn. Take a family-friendly grey-seal cruise with Billy Shiel’s, or follow the seals underwater on a diving trip organised by the same company. Back on dry land, you’ll find plenty of puffins, a medieval pele tower and a Victorian lighthouse.
The Moray Firth
Some 90% of British grey seals breed in Scotland, and the Moray Firth is one of the best places to spot them, along with harbour seals. Chanonry Point and Portgordon, a pretty former fishing village (above), are both good bets – as is Findhorn, one of the few natural harbours in the area, where you’ll find seals sunbathing on the rocks in warm weather. The Moray Firth is also home to plenty of dolphins.
* Follow Country Life on Twitter