Monday, 12 November 2012

The seals of donna nook

The months of November and December bring one of the best chances to see the UK's largest breeding seals up close and personal as huge numbers of these Grey Seals haul themselves landward to breed and give birth.  One of the most popular and accessible destinations to see this spectacle first hand are the beaches of Donna Nook on the Lincolnshire Coast.

These impressive creatures gather in their hundreds in November, and as we visited on a saturday did the crowds!  It was great to see so many people getting out and enjoying nature, but made photography on the day a bit more challenging!  Nonetheless the seals were within metres from the boardwalk and put you right in amongst the action, really giving a sense of scale as to how big these animals are.

The vast majority of the time the seals would lay down, rest, wallow in the intertidal mud and occasionally let out a grunt or other indescribable noise, seemingly unbothered by the masses of people watching them.
Dotted in and amongst the mounds of blubber were lots of newborn pups.  These have distinctive white fluffy coats and large black eyes inevitably receiving a chorus of 'aaaws' from the crowds that they so rightfully deserve!
 The pups of Grey Seals weigh around 14kg at birth.  They quickly balloon in size due to the mothers' milk being 60% fat, ensuring they too will develop a thick coat of blubber to survive the cold waters of the North Sea.

 The bulls of the group offer the most chance to see action on the beaches.  They are huge, regularly weighing between 300 and 400kg of blubber and muscle.  They patrol small areas of the beach in order to protect their mating rights and can be very aggressive to one another.  They'll regularly let out roars and slam their stomachs against the ground to make loud booming sounds, showing off their size and weight in order to intimidate would be attackers.

 If the slams and roars don't work, theres only one option left...almost a tonne of grey seal coming together in a vicious battle.  These fights can get extremely violent and use up lots of energy so it is essential to win.  They use their huge weight and strong jaws to tussle and bite each other leaving the majority of battle hardened males bloodied and scarred.  
Although you have to feel sorry for the loser thats left licking his wounds, it is an impressive spectacle to witness first hand and an important part of nature.