November 18th-20th 2011 at Donna Nook, Lincolnshire…
I had never seen a grey seal before, then I found myself looking out over hundreds. Females with their small, silky-cream pups, dozing together in the chilly sunlight. Females scrapping with each other, getting too close to one and other’s pups, and shouting at the males. The occasional short “romance”, with a female allowing the male to mate with her. The air filled with barking calls of adults, and whining calls of pups, which sounded like they were calling “Mum!”
Travelling down to Donna Nook with other members of the Wildlife Photography Society of the University of Cumbria was well worth the long minibus journey. We were very lucky to have such good weather. Excellent light for photography and no rain; just a chill in the air.
Saturday provided a clear, blue sky and my first view of grey seals. It was a spectacular sight! A sight that many people, travelling from far and wide, go to see. Fantastic for photographers, who can stay for many hours, seeking the perfect shots without a lack or loss of their subject. Also, a fantastic trip for families to enjoy nature at it’s best with ease!
(All the photographs in this post were taken by myself)
The seal pups became sleepy after a long feed of their Mother’s milk. The milk is vital for the youngsters survival into the adult world of the ocean, where they will quickly learn to feed themselves. With a 50-60% fat content, the milk ensures rapid weight gain for the pups and they are weaned after just 2-3 weeks. The females fast during this short period of nursing, and then leave the pups to fend for themselves.
The females could be seen scratching their pup’s fur with the short claws on the end of their flippers. This seemed to help with bonding, and also encouraging the pups to nurse.
The young pups looked brand new, with their creamy-white, soft fur. Animated expressions seemed to show the pups’ interest in the attention of those at Donna Nook, who had come just to see them.
If females got too close to one and other, or each other’s pups, they could be seen arguing, with barking calls, flippers raised and teeth bared.
Not only do the females attack each other, but they will also chase-off a stray pup who wonders too close to her and her own pup. It can look very aggressive at times, and the female in this picture can even be seen biting the tail of another pup.
The males laze around on the beach, waiting for a female to give the signals that she’s ready to mate.
Sunday proved to be more overcast, and even more chill. However, I managed to get some good shots that I was pleased with and the young seals were ever playful and posing.
The young seals seemed to pose for the camera, showing their “best side” and basking in the never-ending attention from their 2-legged fans.
The seals, including the adults, used rolling to move along quickly. This looked playful amongst the youngsters, and comical to see the females move closer to their pups by rolling.
Along the beach, every now and again, females could be seen approaching the males and allowing him to move towards her, without being aggressive. Mating would follow, which at times looked as though he was painfully biting her, and in the end they seemed to cuddle.
My experience at Donna Nook was fantastic, and I saw it as a real opportunity for other members of the public to connect with nature and appreciate its worth. To see such an amazing and charismatic creature up close, from just a few feet away, reminds us of the wonder of the natural world. I would definitely recommend an early morning visit to Donna Nook to see the grey seals, particularly before the crowds arrive!