Common Seals in Mannin Bay

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A great place to see Common Seals (Phoca vitulina) on the Wild Atlantic Way is at Mannin bay located between Clifden and Ballyconeely Village in North West Connemara. The seals can be seen the Clifden side of the bay close enough to the main road. I have often seen them hauled out on sand banks within 70m of the shore. Bionoculars or a telescope really helps to get a good look at these marine mammals.

seals mannin

Photo 1: Eight Common Seals Hauled out in Mannin Bay

Key Identification Features

The common seal, also known as the harbor seal is the smaller of Ireland’s two seals.  The other is the grey seal which also is found in Mannin Bay though these tend to be found closer to the mouth of the bay. The seal’s body shape consists of a rounded streamlined design with an all over covering of fur. The fur coat is moulted once a year in August and is variable in colour from an almost white to sliver grey  to a black or dark brown coat .  The common seal has a rounded disc shaped face with a short snout with its distinctive V-shaped nostrils. They generally look much cuter than their grey realtives.



The common seal prefers sheltered coastal areas with a sandier coastline and calmer waters than the grey seal. They will establish regularly visited resting sites on mudflats and sandbanks in an area within their range such as at Mannin Bay. In Ireland the common seal’s preferred habitats are located along the western seaboard in any area that can provide quick access to sandy resting sites. The common seal species does not form large colonies as other seals do, they are regarded as being less sociable and will spend most of their time alone or in small groups. This week I counted just three and I counted eight hauling out in Mannin last week.



Common seals are carnivorous hunters . The preferred prey items of common seals in Irish waters are fish species including herring, hake and sole. They will also hunt for small crustaceans, octopus and squid in deeper waters .


Reproduction and Life Cycle

The mating season for common seals in Ireland starts in July and runs until August. Once pregnant the gestation period lasts for eleven months with a single pup born in June  at the breeding ground. Grey seals by constrast give birth in December.


Current Distribution

In Ireland the common seal is mainly concentrated along the western seaboard which can provide sheltered calm waters and have access to sandy haul outs. The current Irish population has been estimated to contain about 5,000 individuals.


Photo of Seal Pup: Spenser Wright

Photo of Seals hauling out Mannin Bay Marty Hilsden

Information sources: NPWS and Conserve Ireland

Marie-Louise HeffernanCommon Seals in Mannin Bay

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