It’s the time of year for seal pups
It’s all go for grey seals at the moment. The pupping season is drawing to a close but the seal pups are in a race against time to become sea-borne and fat before winter cold and storms can over-run their beaches or their strength. At the same time, females returning to the sea are mated by bulls who guard and compete over beaches. Neither bulls or cows feed at this time of year and rapidly lose weight.
Grey seals seem a little clumsy to us but they can dive beyond depths of 400metres (1500 metres seems to be the record depth!) and often dive to about 50 metres. Records of healthy blind seals show that sight is not essential to keep them alive. At depth, light quickly fades and seals hunt around the clock. Beneath the waves those large nostrils and eccentric moustaches become essential and impressive survival tools feeling their way both in mid-water and on the sea bed (the whiskers are highly sensitive to touch and are called vibrissae).
Yesterday (26th September) we were lucky enough to arrive at our vantage point on the cliffs above seal cove as a mother seal had just given birth. It was an amazing encounter, the tiny seal pup was suckling within minutes of being born. What a privilege to witness.
10 important facts about grey seals
- Grey seals are about twice the size of common seals
- The can be identified by their straighter or convex foreheads compare to the common seal’s concave forehead and more dog-like face
- More than 50 % of the world’s grey seals live in British waters and 95% of British seals are in Scotland
- Grey seals frequently dive 50 metres or more and can dive more than 400 metres. The average depth of the North Sea is about 94 metres.
- There are records of blind grey seals living healthy lives in the wild
- Seals can smell underwater
- Dives can last half an hour or more
- Seals breathe out to dive so they lose buoyancy but therefore dive without much air in their lungs. We breathe in to dive. Without air in our lungs we would quickly suffocate.
- Grey seals breed in coves and caves and remote beaches mostly from August to October.
- They don’t feed during the breeding season and rapidly lose weight
- Delayed implantation cause an extended gestation period (pregnancy) of 12 months but labour lasts just a few seconds. The streamlined little pups seem to just swim out.
- Grey seal pups are creamy white (natal fur) and moult into a silvery-grey coat at two to three weeks old. This coat was known as the blue coat to hunters and was the most prized seal pelt.
- They gain about 1.5kg per day in order to moult and take to the sea within a month. Beaches are not safe. This is achieved by the 70% fat content of Mum’s milk. Dairy cow milk is about 3.5%fat.
- Female grey seals may live for about 35 years but males die younger.
Our seal pup notebooks are available here