Sixteen common seals (Phoca vitulina) were stranded on the Belgian and northern French coasts during the summer of 1998. Eleven (10 pups and one adult) were sampled for histopathological, immunohistochemical, serological, bacteriological, parasitological and virological investigations. The main gross findings were severe emaciation, acute haemorrhagic enteritis, acute pneumonia, interstitial pulmonary emphysema and oedema, and chronic ulcerative stomatitis. Microscopical lung findings were acute to subacute pneumonia with interstitial oedema and emphysema. Severe lymphocytic depletion was observed in lymph nodes. Severe acute to subacute meningoencephalitis was observed in one animal. Specific staining with two monoclonal antibodies directed against canine distemper virus (cDv) and phocine distemper virus was observed in a few lymphocytes in the spleen and lymph nodes of three seals. Anti-cDv neutralising antibodies were detected in sera from six animals. Seven of the seals were positive by reverse transcriptase- PCR for the morbillivirus phosphoprotein gene. The lesions observed were consistent with those in animals infected by a morbillivirus, and demonstrated that distemper has recently recurred in North Sea seals.