Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus)

The grey seal is the biggest mammal in the Baltic Sea. In 2012, the population in the Baltic Sea was estimated to be up to 28,000 individuals, with about one fifth of them living in Estonian waters.

The adult male ranges from 2.5 to 3 metres in length and weighs up to 300 kg; the female is less than 2 metres in length, with a weight of up to 250 kg. The male is brownish grey in colour, with big dark spots; females are lighter. Grey seals inhabit the high seas around islands and islets, and lead a rather stationary lifestyle. The ringed seal and the harbour seal living in the Baltic Sea are smaller in size and body weight; hunting them is prohibited. The ringed seal is darker; the back side of its fur has more or less distinct eye-like spots. The muzzle is shorter and more rounded than that of the grey seal – the ringed seal looking out of the water resembles a cat without ears, whereas the grey seal resembles a dog.

The grey seal is in heat during the early spring. Males form harems of 6 to 7 females. Gestation lasts for a year; usually one cub is born at the end of February or in March. Nursery colonies are characteristic of the species. Newborns have greyish white soft fur and cannot swim; they enter the water for the first time when they are about 9 months old. Without parental care, cubs will perish. After giving birth to cubs, mating and moulting, which lasts until the end of April, grey seals scatter in the high seas either individually or in smaller groups.

The grey seal has no natural enemies; eagles pose a potential threat to cubs.

Hunting from hides and a stalking hunt are permitted for grey seals from 15 April until 31 December. The hunting quota is set by the Environmental Board, determining the hunting districts where hunting is permitted and hunting quotas in management areas. Grey seals are not evaluated as hunting trophies.