Seals are highly adapted to live in water. Their limbs are modified into flippers and they have streamlined bodies. Phoca vitulina can dive to 450 m and remain submerged for up to 30 minutes. The common seal is a strong swimmer and can be seen leaping completely out of the water (porpoising) (Nowak, 2003). Only the head is usually seen when the seal is in water. As well as being fur-coated they have a thick layer of subcutaneous fat or blubber. This keeps them warm and enhances streamlining (SMRU, 2004). Seals are warm-blooded air-breathing mammals but spend a considerable amount of time below the water surface. Common seals give birth to pups in June and July and moult in August. The main threat to seals in the UK and Ireland is organochlorine compounds that may interfere with reproduction (SMRU, 2004).The Common or harbour seal has been reported as non-migratory and littoral in distribution and as exhibiting a diurnal haul-out pattern (Evans & Raga, 2001). Common seals in Europe belong to a distinct sub-species. Britain holds around 40% of the world population of the European sub-species (Duck & Thompson, 2003).
The Conservation of Seals Act, 1970, provides a closed season for the Common seal during its pupping season. During this time, it is illegal to kill or take seals without a licence. There is also provision for giving complete protection to seals at al times, if neccesary. During the close season, a license is required to handle seals unless they are sick or injured (SMRU, 2004). The Baltic and Wadden Sea populations are listed under the Bonn Convention (Appendix II).
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