Spotting a grey seal in the wild is a wonderful experience and the waters of the Looe Voluntary Marine Conservation Area are one of the easiest places to see a wild Grey Seal in the whole of the UK.
You’ll understand what a privilege this is when you realise there are fewer grey seals in the world than African elephants, almost half of them (about 160,000) live in the UK – about the same number as red squirrels and Looe Island is one of their favoured locations in Cornwall.
The species most likely to be seen is the Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus), the UK’s largest land breeding wild mammal (up to 300kg). Very occasionally you may spot a Harbour or Common Seal (Phoca vitulina) which is smaller (up to 150kg) & has a cat-like face. There were 20 sightings of Common Seals in Cornwall in 2011 alone.
- Seals can be seen in the sea all around Looe from the beaches and cliff tops and may be seen hauled out on tidal rocks off Looe Island. The best views can be gained from the round island tour boats or by taking a landing day visit boat trip.
- Looe Island (Map ref: SX258515) – is by far the best place to spot & observe seals in the Looe area hauled out on the rocks of the Ranney Reefs on the south side of the Island at low water. Around high water they can be seen anywhere around the Island but their favourite area is the east side where they often greet the tourist boats from Looe.
- Low water is the best time to spot seals hauled out, resting & socialising on the Ranney Reefs. Seals need to haul out to rest and digest their food, so flushing them into the sea causes stress and upsets their energy balance.
- They can be seen at most times of year but tend to be less common in the winter months when the females go elsewhere to give birth to their pups.
- When seal spotting, be sure to wear suitable footwear & clothes for the weather conditions & time of year. Seal spotting is much more rewarding if you have a good pair of binoculars.
- When visiting the Island, a telescope gives a close view of any seals on the Ranneys & can also be used for bird watching.
- On land (hauled out): lying on their side relaxing; lifting head & tail is known as ‘banana-ing’; howled arguments about the haul out places.
- In the water: ‘Bottling’ (resting vertically in the sea), ‘logging’ (resting horizontally in the sea), ‘scanning’ (head out looking around). If you’re very lucky you may see seals feeding on the surface holding their catch with the front flippers.
Codes of conduct & safety
Please follow our codes of conduct when watching seals on and around Looe Island.
- On a boat- always listen to the skipper’s instructions & rules.
- Remain quiet when seals are seen so there is less chance of disturbing them off rocks and more chance of a good view.
- Never feed a seal from the boat, there is a real risk of a severe bite. Always remember seals are wild animals, so hand feeding them leads to a lifetime of humanised behaviour.
- If on the Island, remain quiet, wear low visibility clothing & never approach seals closely.
- If kayaking, be aware that hauled out seals can be particularly uncertain about approaching kayaks and may injure themselves in their rush to get to the safety of the sea. Once sure about your lack of threat though, seals may often follow and approach kayaks. To get the best views, kayak backwards! Where hauled out, do not approach closely especially if a female has a pup with it. Do not feed seals while kayaking- they have been known to climb onto kayaks.