2014 – January 11th
The Little Orme is a fascinating site to visit at any time of year as it holds a variety of habitats in a relatively small area and there is always something to see, but the winter months are the perfect time to see some of its special visitors, charismatic Grey Seals. There are never many, but the pebbly beach of Angel Bay regularly attracts a number of new mothers and pups that come to haul out to rest on the shore of this sheltered little cove. They are pretty much undisturbed there as the beach is only accessible by a steep narrow track down the cliff. They don’t seem to mind interested people watching them from above too much, even those armed with cameras, although they definitely know you’re there and may keep a wary eye on you to make sure you stay put.
Today I was pleased to discover there were indeed grey seals here; five adults in a group, seemingly dozing, while three tiny young ones were practicing their swimming techniques in the waves.
The adults appeared not to be too concerned for the safety of the youngsters; grey seal pups have to grow up fast and must be able to start fending for themselves at about a month old, so they grow and put on weight rapidly and quickly shed the pretty white fur coats they are born with. The little ones seemed quite happy in the water, although getting back in, fighting against the incoming waves seemed to present more of a challenge.
The adult’s apparent slumber came to an abrupt end when something seemed to alarm them and they travelled surprisingly quickly down to the sea edge.
They were heading towards a young one, making me wonder if they had perhaps been summoned by it, but then as it watched from the surf of the sea edge they simultaneously stopped and flopped down again, seemingly unimpressed.
From November onwards female grey seals return to their favourite beaches to give birth and mate again. The milk of the grey seal is very rich enabling the pups to put on weight quickly. They have to grow fast as their mothers stay with them for only three weeks before returning to the sea. The mother does not feed herself whilst feeding her pup, so hunger soon drives her back to the sea. Young seal pups are covered in white fur when they’re born. Within a month or so they shed the pup fur, grow dense waterproof adult fur, and leave for the sea to learn to fish for themselves. The pup soon follows and must teach itself to hunt for food.
I have posted about grey seals several times before, my favourite being a post about the rescue of a very young pup from beneath the sea-break boulders at Rhos Point by some of the caring keepers from the Welsh Mountain Zoo. The photograph below is from that post.
Thank you for the kind comments. Sorry to take so long to reply, meant to do it ages ago! You’re right about the seals appearances being unpredictable; the best times are during the short while the young ones stay with their mothers when you’re more likely to see them in numbers. After that there are often a few young ones left to their own devices that stay around for a while. They all must stay around and about though as single ones pop their heads up throughout most of the year and the occasional one hauls themself out.
Sounds like a real treat when they’re there, and the unpredictability makes it even more special. We visited today (1st March), and didn’t see any seals, but a local dog walker had counted 30 grey seals there yesterday. I’m just researching when the best time to visit might be (and came across your blog)… and a fine blog it is too 🙂
Definitely, something about them keeps you watching, even when they’re not really doing anything particularly interesting. To watch them swimming is wonderful and your experience of watching seals in the rain with your girls sounds magical; something you will always remember.
Something hypnotic about seal watching don’t you think. A couple of years ago, while camping in very remote Scotland, I took the daughters for a walk in pouring rain to see some seals. We sat watching, absolutely dripping, for about half an hour – it was fabulous. Later I heard the girls telling friends that it was the highlight of their holiday.