No other baby animal has the appeal of a white fluffy baby seal.
PETER FROST says Aaagh.
The seal is not just Britain biggest carnivore – if we exclude whales – but
is also one of Britain’s most charismatic animals.
Young and fluffy pups are almost unbelievably cute. Not the reaction a
serious environmental correspondent for a serious socialist daily should
perhaps be expressing.
Seals are easy to watch. Most wild animals are shy and wary of humans. Seals on the other hand are
curious by nature, often bobbing up in the water to watch their human
Walk near them on a beach and they are quite likely to move towards you. On Orkney I have even had them follow me along the beach.
We have two distinct species of seal around our coast.
The grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) and common seal (Phoca vitulina).
Now concentrate. In Britain the grey seal is far more common than the common seal and just to confuse you further both species are coloured grey as adults.
To identify each species look them in the face.
Common Seals have short noses and V-shaped nostrils while Greys have a longer muzzle and parallel nostrils.
This week I am off to the Lincolnshire coast. To Donna Nook one of the best places to see seals in England.
Scottish readers have a bigger choice and an easier job as nine out of ten of British seals make their home in Scottish waters.
Donna Nook, on the Lincolnshire Coast, is home to up to three thousand Grey seals at certain times of the year making it one of England’s very best seal watching sites.
In some years more than a thousand seals pups are born at Donna Nook.
You can find the seals on the beach near Stonebridge car park. There are several access points off the main A1031 coastal road.
For most of the year the Grey seals disperse out to sea or move along the coast to other sites.
However from October – until after Christmas the seals come to breed near the dunes at Donna Nook. Visitors come in their hundreds to see the pups.
Sadly Donna Nook is not the peaceful seashore you might expect seals to choose for their nursery.
The coast here is owned by the Ministry of Defence and used as a bombing range.
Strangely the seals seem remarkably undisturbed by the screaming war planes overhead.
The Donna Nook Grey Seal Colony is managed by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust (LWT).
Visitors are welcome at Donna Nook but for your own safety and to reduce
disturbance to the seals, the LWT offers this advice.
Strictly observe all red flags and other bombing range warnings.
Don’t get too close to the seals.
Keep out of sanctuary areas.
Never feed or pet the seals – even pups can inflict a nasty bite!
Unaccompanied children and dogs are not allowed. .
Weekdays are the best time to visit; the narrow lanes and car park get very congested at weekends.
Most people come to see the seals but the dunes, mudflats and saltmarshes attract large numbers of birds including woodcock, lapland bunting, shore lark, hen harrier, short-eared owl, reed bunting, shelduck, twite, linnet, meadow pipit, brent geese, knot, dunlin, gulls and terns. Common lizards are also found here in summer.
There are many other places worth a winter day out to see the seals.
Here are a handful of my favourites.
Blakeney, on the north Norfolk coast; Horsey gap beach in the Broads National Park, Scotland’s Moray Firth; the Farne
Islands in the North East; The Hilbre islands near Liverpool. Skomer Island
off the Pembrokeshire coast.
Portavogie’s seal show
At Portavogie on Northern Ireland’s Ards Peninsula when the fishing fleet arrives home from sea locals and visitors gather on the harbour for an amazing show. As the fisherfolk clean and gut the catch they throw the bloody waste into the water. A group of several seals have made the harbour their home and have grown fat and lazy on this easy food supply. The huge animals make the harbour water boil as the fight and jump for the easy spoils.
This feature was prepared for publication in the winter of 2013 in time for the grey seal pupping season around the Wash. Unfortunately the worst sea surge and storms for sixty years changed the focus and a new story (also on this site) was written and published.