Grey seal pupping season has started in the North West

Friday 13th October 2017

For the third year running, a grey seal pup has been born at South Walney Nature Reserve, on Walney Island, Cumbria

Over the last few decades, the number of grey seals hauling out to rest on the protected beach of Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s South Walney Nature Reserve has been increasing. Two years ago the first ever pup to be born on South Walney was spotted as part of a routine seal survey. That year, two pups were born.

Grey seals have an annual, synchronous breeding cycle. Females grey seals give birth to a single pup each autumn at the same time each year. They usually return to breed year on year in the same location. Towards the end of the weaning period the seals will mate again.

Last year, it was hoped that two pups might be born following the surprise births in 2015, but we were even more surprised when five pups were born! Who knows, if we are lucky we may get even more pups this year! 

Emily Baxter, Senior Marine Conservation Officer for the North West Wildlife Trusts said: "The first pup of this year was spotted on exactly the same day as the first pup last year. It is likely that it was the same mother coming back to have another pup here at that same time as she did last year. We will be attempting to work out if this is the case using photo identification, comparing the unique markings on the mothers from last year and this year."

The establishement of a breeding colony on South Walney is an encouraging indication that grey seals are thriving on Walney Island and around the UK, with numbers on the increase.

During the 1970s and 80s, seals were seen only singly around Walney Island and gradually over time their numbers have increased. Last year a maximum of 259 individuals were counted from a routine aerial survey using a drone.

Grey seal mothers only stay with their pups for a short time, feeding them with fat-rich milk, until they are weaned and then they often leave both the pup and the area. After weaning, the pup may remain on the island for up to another few weeks or so before it is ready to head out to sea to forage for itself. During this time, the pup will gradually moult its thick white fur revealing its adult coat with its own individual markings. 

Seal surveys have been carried out for six years, every two weeks between September and March. The surveys aim to monitor the seal population in the area from year to year. Last year drone surveys were also started and this has shown to give a much more accurate count when seals are hauled out in large numbers.

The behaviours displayed by the seals at South Walney Nature Reserve are also monitored to gain understanding about the percentage of time that seals spend exhibiting different types of behaviour and how this is affected by human disturbance such as boating and recreational use of the sea surrounding Walney Island. The findings from the survey help to create management plans for the nature reserve.

Due to the young age of the seal, it is incredibly vulnerable to disturbance, which would cause the mother to abandon it and the pup to starve. For this reason, there is strictly no access to the area of the nature reserve where the seal pup is, and so it is not possible to view the pup at South Walney Nature Reserve. However, you can now watch them on our live seal cam and the rest of the seals can be seen playing and fishing in the water at high tide, along with thousands of wintering wildfowl and wader birds, from hides elsewhere on the nature reserve.

Watch the seals at South Walney Nature Reserve from the comfort of your office or home by logging on to our seal cam now>>

Tagged with: Living Seas