Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Seal With No Name?

My 'up close and personal' encounter with a seal off Brixham Breakwater whetted my appetite to learn more about these creatures. Do we have our own local colony who loll around the bay all year? What do I do if they approach me when I'm swimming in the sea?  I'd heard that this is highly probable around here. They pop up when you least expect them and sometimes butt or mouth you.  Yikes!  That could be pretty alarming.

So yesterday I woke up very excited because I was going to a talk by Sue Sayer from the Cornwall Seal Group.  She answered my first question pronto.  Actually our lot are not exclusively Brixham seals.  It's likely that the ones I've seen swim bloody miles each year.  They could have turfed up along the South West English Channel Coast, the Scillies, Wales, Ireland and Brittany. Wow!   Here's another ten amazing seal facts that I learnt.

  • Grey seals are rarer than African elephants.  There's only about 4,000 of them and a third live around the South West coastline.  That makes me pretty lucky that they live on my doorstep.
  • Each seal has its own unique and seemingly random travel itinerary and often goes on the same annual trip unless something disrupts the pattern.
  • Even though they moult they can be identified throughout their lifetime by their distinctive spotty markings. In fact, this is the main way that they are surveyed.  Some are radio tracked but this can cause injury and anyway, the antenna only stays on for one season.
  • Grey seals sometimes look brown. That is because they have rolled in poo.
  • Seal whiskers have amazing numbers of nerve endings in them and they are more sensitive than our finger tips.
  • After seals have mated, the embryo has a rest after dividing a few times.  The female will only go on to be properly pregnant if she fattens up nicely.  There is no seal menopause so the girls can theoretically go on breeding throughout their lifespan.
  • Seal brothers and sisters are often born on the same day of the year on the same beach.
  • Seal pups are weaned and on their own from about three weeks onwards.
  • As a greeting they stick their noses in each others ear holes.  They might not tolerate this from a seal that they don't know!
  • Seal spit is full of germs and if you get bitten to the extent where blood is drawn any sign of infection should be taken seriously.  The Cornwall Seal Group can give advice about treatment as standard antibiotics don't cut the mustard.
As regards swimming with seals, not being frightened may be the key.   Gesturing them away with an arm wave if they're too close seems to work.  They do the same thing to each other with their flippers.

Even though my own photos that I took in January aren't  that great I'm going to send them to She might know who the seals I've spotted are. If she does it may help build up a picture of their annual movements.  Call me geeky but I find that utterly cool!!


  1. I think it's cool too. It's one of the really special things about living at the coast.

  2. Amazing! Zoos are my only exposure but someday I hope to see in person. Smart of you to learn more-cute creatures, but still wild animals.

    1. Would be lovely if you got to see them in the wild one day. x

  3. Definitely cool, good to be in with the crowd.