If harbor seals are the cute “cocker spaniels” of the sea, then gray seals are more like the bulldogs–tough, muscular, and, to some people, ugly. They have large, rounded heads and thick, stocky necks. On land, there’s nothing really graceful about these creatures. Don’t let that fool you, though, even on land gray seals are faster than humans. In the water, it’s ridiculous.

These animals are fast, agile swimmers. They play together and live in large groups and even hunt together. Come breeding time, like most seal species, the males tend to get territorial and aggressive and will fight each other in loud, bloody battles.

Underwater, gray seals are incredible. They both see and hear better in water and on land and their bodies that flop so gracelessly on the shores are speedy and maneuverable. They have whiskers like a cat’s that help them navigate through dark or murky waters. They mostly eat fish and invertebrates and can dive up to 1,000 feet to find their food. (For comparison, the average scuba diver swims down to about 100 feet.)

Next time you’re passing by in a boat or in one of the Center for Coastal Studies’ walking seal tours, say hello to my good friends, the bulldogs of the sea, but remember to keep a safe distance!