information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

Bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.



The bearded seal Erignathus barbatus is member of the 'true seal' family. Like all true seals, it has a tapering and pointed muzzle, small, clawed pectoral flippers, and relatively small hind flippers that cannot rotate under the body. It has smooth, long whiskers on the muzzle. The bearded seal is a large seal, with a very small head and a short, thick neck. It can reach 1.9 m in length. It has a short muzzle and moderately large eyes. The back is a uniform dark colour and the underside is paler.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

A vagrant in northern British waters, usually found much further north.

Global distribution



The bearded seal is a cold water species usually inhabiting coastal waters.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Long body up to 1.9 m in length.
  • Small tapering muzzle with smooth, long, white whiskers.
  • Short, thick neck.
  • No external ear.
  • Very small pectoral and moderately long hind flippers.
  • Fingers on flippers are all the same length.
  • Variable dark colouration on the back without spots or blotches.

Additional information

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Further information sources

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  1. BMLSS (British Marine Life Study Society), 2008. Sea Mammals: Seals Page., 2008-03-13

  2. Corbet, G.B. & Southern, H.N., 1977. The handbook of British Mammals. 2nd edition. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford & London.

  3. Evans, P.G.H. & Raga, J. A. (ed.), 2001. Marine mammals: biology and conservation New York: Kluwer Academic / Plenum Publishers

  4. Hewer, H.R. 1974. British Seals. London : Collins

  5. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  6. Kinze, C. C., 2002. Photographic Guide to the Marine Mammals of the North Atlantic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  7. Nowak, R.M., 2003. Walker's Marine Mammals of the World. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

  8. Shetland Sea Mammal Group 2008. Vagrant Seals in Shetland., 2008-03-13


This review can be cited as:

Barnes, M.K.S. 2008. Erignathus barbatus Bearded seal. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 23-03-2018]. Available from:

Last Updated: 02/06/2008