Are Seals Friendly? (Should You Approach Them??)

With their round bodies and their pleading, dark puppy-dog eyes, seals seem only to be waiting for a human to come along and befriend them. But is this true?

Are seals friendly? While, yes, seals are mostly not actively aggressive, it would nevertheless be a bad idea to try to interact or even play with a seal you meet either when swimming or on land. All initiative should come from the seal instead of you!

If you encounter a seal in the water, they might like to come closer and explore you with their mouth or flippers. In a situation like this, it is important to stay calm and let the seal have control over the situation.

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Seals are curious and likely just want to get to know you a little bit better – meeting a human for them is as exciting as meeting a seal is for you – but their mood can change very quickly when they feel cornered. It is especially important to never disturb a mother and her pup or come between two males competing for a female.

When an angry male comes close to you, the best thing to do is to avoid eye contact, lower your head, and keep really still.

Seals look soft and harmless, but they have strong claws and sharp, interlocking teeth. 

When you meet a seal on land you should stay about 100 feet away, and, what is even more important, do not allow your dog to interact with the seal! As above, even if the encounter starts out on friendly terms, it can change quite quickly which would be dangerous both for your pet and the seal. Both have not only sharp teeth but could also carry illnesses that either wild animals or pets are not equipped to deal with. 

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Aside from the question of whether seals are kind to humans, it is also worth asking whether seals are nice to other animals. Contrary to their adorable looks, grey seals seem to have a vicious side to them, as a study from 2015 has found. For a long time, people thought that these cuddly-looking animals ate mostly fish, but they have been seen killing the pups of other seal species as well as tortoises. 

Do Seals on Land Need to Be Rescued? 

Grey seal on land
Grey seal on land

When you see a seal on land, especially when it is alone, you might be tempted to call animal rescue. Being on land for a certain amount of time is normal for seals, though. They like spending time on land to rest, and to get dry and warm. Molting and giving birth are also things that seals do on land rather than in the water. Seals do not need to be wet constantly and they can spend up to one week at a time out of the water! 

It is important that you never cover a seal that is shivering! It might look like it is suffering, but shivering is a normal part of the thermoregulation of a seal, and covering it with a blanket would only result in distress. Seals often look clumsy and uncomfortable on land, but that does not mean that they are.

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If you are unsure whether a seal is healthy you can always call a seal rescue station – they will typically watch a seal for up o 48 hours before they can be sure whether it has to be taken in or not. 

How Does the Social Structure of Seals Look Like? 

Seals live in large groups that look chaotic and unstructured from an outside point of view. This large group then consists of smaller sub-groups, which all have their own hierarchy. The hierarchies in groups are mostly male-oriented.

Depending on the species, males can either challenge each other across the age range, so that a younger male could theoretically be more dominant than an older one, or the older males always occupy a higher place in the social structure. Having a high social standing means that a seal gets to decide when the whole group moves, for example, to look for food.  

Females are usually less aggressive with each other, except when they have just given birth to pups. In this case, they are extremely protective and might fight against other females, or even other pups, when they come to close. 

Aside from hierarchically structured sub-groups, seals also form friendships and cliques that are not dependent on hierarchy. Such groups might relax in the sun together but also hunt together. 

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