Orkney is an internationally important breeding site for two species of seals – the grey and the common seal. These charismatic creatures are both friendly and inquisitive, but it's best to steer clear of mothers with pups. You are certain to spot seals here basking on skerries at low tide, or even have them follow you in the water as you walk along the shore. If you whistle or sing it helps with the Pied Piper effect. Both grey and common seals make their home in Orkney.
Grey seals are the heavier of the two and give birth to their milky white pups from October onwards. The pups remain on land to suckle for 18-21 days to put on fat for the cold winter at sea. They have a Roman nose and females live for about 35 years and males for 25. Fifteen per cent of the world population of grey seals are in Orkney. There were about 25,000 in Orkney in 2007. They favour isolated skerries and beaches and can be seen spread out from one another while basking.
Common seals are less common than grey seals. They are smaller and have their pups around June and July. These pups can go to sea almost immediately. This species spends days at sea feeding but there are plenty of haul-out areas to spot them on when they come ashore. Just listen out for their mournful, haunting cry. Females live for about 30 years and males for 20.
The number of common seals has declined in Orkney by around 50% in the past ten years, and no one is certain what has caused this. Presently, there are about 7,000 common seals here.
Orkney folk legends tell of the magical race of selkies – seals in Orcadian dialect. It is said they shed their sealskins on Midsummer’s Eve, and became beautiful seal folk who bewitched humans.