The common seal breeds in the spring from May to July, with its maximum breeding activity in the end of May and beginning of June. On the south coast the breeding starts 1-2 weeks earlier than on the north coast.
The grey seal breeds between late September and February or March, with its maximum activity in October and November.
Because of their breeding times, the common seal is named the "spring seal" in Iceland and the grey seal is the "autumn seal".
Historically, the seal harvest played an important role in the local diet, with all edible parts being used. The meat was either used fresh, salted or smoked. The blubber was used as a source of light, animal fodder or for human consumption. And the ancient tradition of pickling the flippers still continues. In the 1980s the popularity of seal cuisine declined, but in the 21st century it is said to be increasing again.
Sealing today is small in scale, with just 200 or 300 animals being taken annually, almost entirely pups. These are taken when they are a few weeks old, just towards the end of lactation. Occasionally adult grey seals are also taken, but adult common seals are not harvested.
From the viewpoint of the national economy, sealing today is insignificant. But for a few coastal farmers the hunt is an important source of income. It is these farmers who give Icelandic sealing its particular national character. Sealing takes place almost entirely inside the boundaries of the farms, and therefore the permission of the farmer or landowner must be obtained for hunting to take place. Iceland's seal farmers have established the Seal Farmers Society with a membership of 100.
Pelts of common seal pups are mostly tanned and made into coats and jackets, while some are sold dry for export. Pelts of grey seal pups are tanned for the very strong leather they produce. The pelts of both species are also made into souvenirs for tourists.
Seal watching is a growing tourist activity in Iceland.