The Grey Seals of Horsey

Shows grey seal pup in its white coat on the sand
Grey seal pup

Excitement grew as we approached the dunes. I couldn’t see any seals yet—but I could hear them! From the other side of the dunes came a haunting blare of warm low toned bellows.

I scrambled up the sandy path to the highest point atop a dune with the sea breeze blowing cold upon my face and snatching at my hair. I stood still—breathed—and then, I saw them.

They were lying, spread out all along the beaches.

I caught my breath and gasped at the sight,
They were lain on the beach
To the left and the right;
Beyond our reach
lying on the sand—
so near to us, so close at hand.

It was unreal!
Seeing so many grey seal!
Pups, bulls and cows.
assembled in rows—
Spreading about all over the shore
I’d never seen such a sight before!

Lesley Scoble
Shows grey seal pup on the sandy beach
Grey seal pup Photo: Lesley Scoble

Between the months of October and January cow seals will leave the sea and heave and lumber themselves up onto the beach to give birth.

The afterbirth provides a nutritious meal for seabirds.

The seal colony will spend three weeks on dry land while the mothers suckle and wean their newborn pups.

A Seal of Approval

Short film sequence of a mother nurturing her pup

A Seal Of Approval

The pups gain weight rapidly, feeding on their mother’s rich fatty milk and they will more than double their birthweight in only three weeks.

As soon as the pup is weaned the cows will mate again with the bull seals that have been hanging around waiting for this opportune moment.

At three weeks the adults abandon their offspring for the open sea—leaving the pups alone on the beach.

Seal pup Photo: Lesley Scoble

The pups will spend a few more weeks on their own, left to their own devices, resting and growing their waterproof coats before taking the first plunge of their lives into the great ocean.

Some facts

  • As soon as the cows give birth the bulls will mate with them.
  • Gestation takes 11.5 months but that includes a delay in fertilisation of 3 months in which case the pregnancy will take a more normal 9 months or so.
  • By the end of January the seals should all have left Horsey Beach and taken to the sea—but they will return again for the annual moulting season during March and April.

Protection and Conservation

The waters of the UK and Ireland are home to 50% of the World’s Grey Seal population.

In UK waters the Grey Seal has no natural predators (other than Man that is!) but falls prey to Chlorine PCB’s and other miasmic effluents, fishing net entanglements and plastic detritus.

Pollution is one of the major threats to Grey Seals. Tourism also has an impact. A mother will abandon her single pup if you, or your dog, so much as approach too close and touch it.

The volunteers of the Friends of Horsey Seal who work to protect and conserve the seals and their habitat—whilst enabling controlled public visiting to watch and enjoy the seals during this vital and important season—can only be described as wonderful!

Visit Friends of Horsey Seals for more info.

More facts and figures on the People’s Trust for Endangered Species website.

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