British Wildlife – GREY SEALS on the Norfolk coast

Every winter 1000s of grey seals haul themselves out onto the beaches along our coastline to mate, give birth and for the females to rear their pups. During this time the seals may appear to be relaxing on the beach, and frolicking in the waves but all is not as it seems. In order to win the right to mate the males, which are known as bulls and can grow to weigh more than 250kilos compete with eachother to claim a space on the beach. Most of the time this doesn’t result in physical conflict, the bulls flare their teeth at eachother, they turn their bodies sideways to appear bigger and slap their bellies onto the ground to show how powerful they are. When this is not enough the only way to make your point is to fight, and despite their cuddly appearance, grey seals are ferocious fighters. Their flippers are useless in these battles but the seals sharp teeth and powerful jaws are as good at tearing flesh as they are at catching fish.

The bulls in this video are young and seem to be practising rather than fighting for real, however many of the larger seals on the beach show signs of having been in much more serious fights. One bull has a deep, 3inch gash on its back that was probably caused by another male. Aside from this wound he looks healthy but some of the other bulls do not. This one looks like its taken a right beating and covered in scars and fresh blood.

Once the females have mated they delay implanting their eggs for 3 months, after which they are pregnant for 9 months and then, they give birth to a single white pup. Newborn pups weigh around 14 kilos but they grow fast. Their mothers milk is 60% fat resulting in them gaining 2kilos every day. They are only fed by their mothers for 3 weeks after which she abandons them and heads back out to sea. The pubs are not waterproof at this point so must spend another 3 weeks on the beach shedding their white baby fur. During this time it is best for the pups to laze about and preserve their energy.

Once the pups have shed all their white fur they are now waterproof and are ready to take the plunge and make their way out to sea. They have never been into the water before but now they must rely entirely on their instincts to catch enough food, which is mainly fish and shellfish, to survive. In the face of such a feat it is no surprise that around a half of all grey seal pups will not survive their first 18 months.

I am a strong believer that people should be able to see and enjoy wildlife but if you do visit the grey seals, please do so responsibly. Its is good advice to keep a good distance from the seals and definitely not to get to close if you have dogs with you. Grey seals are frequently attacked by dogs so it is best for them to keep their natural fear of our canine friends.

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