Grey Seal Bull, Tentsmuir NNR ©Lorne Gill. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or

Protected species: seals

The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 protects both seal species found around Scotland’s coast – the harbour seal and the grey seal.

The main legislation that protects seals in Scottish waters is the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. This Act also provides for Scottish Ministers to designate Seal Conservation Areas.

The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended) also prohibit certain methods of catching or killing seals.

The Protection of Seals (Designation of Haul-Out Sites) (Scotland) Order 2014 also applies.

You can see our summary of offences in relation to seals below. For the definitive list of offences, you should consult the actual legislation.

Discover more about seals found in Scottish waters.

Offences: seals

It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure or take a seal at any time of year, except:

  • to alleviate suffering
  • where Marine Scotland has issued a licence to do so

Permitted methods of killing or taking seals are detailed in licences. Licence holders must report returns information regularly.

It is also an offence to intentionally or recklessly harass seals at significant haul-out sites under the Protection of Seals (Designation of Haul-out Sites) (Scotland) Order 2014.

View maps of seal haul-outs on the Scottish Government website.

The Sea Mammal Research Unit updates Scotland’s haul-out sites annually based on its most up-to-date seal counts.


Licensing allows named individuals to carry out actions that could otherwise constitute an offence. If you’re planning any activities that could affect seals, you must make sure you stay within the law.

Marine Scotland is the licensing authority for seals in Scotland. It may grant a seal licence to permit the killing or taking of seals in a Seal Conservation Area only in special circumstances.

Find out about seals and licensing.

Learn more about licensing.

Find out more

Protected species known to occur naturally in Scotland and their protection

Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code

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