Sunday, 29 November 2009

Scuba Dogs!

This weekend me and Jon went to Donna Nook near my parent's place in Lincolnshire. The beach there is host to a huge colony of grey seals who return to have their pups around this time every year. I've been back the last three years, as it's such a unique opportunity to see wildlife up close in its natural habitat. That and the pups are very, very cute.

The first thing that strikes you as you walk towards the beach is the sound. It's not hard to understand how so many myths have sprung up around seals - it's truly haunting to hear this howling echoing across the sand.

As soon as you get near the colony, it's a pretty impressive sight. Hundreds of seals lying across the sand (1,200-odd babies born this year!). Jon described it as looking like a cross between the Normandy landings and the aftermath of an insanely over-indulgent dinner party.

The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust provide a voluntary protection and information service, and a small wooden fence has been erected, which you can stand behind, so as not to interfere with the seals and their pups, and to stop the children biting the animals. This little guy wanted to explore the strange bipeds behind the fence for himself!

It's usually fiercely windy and/or drizzly at Donna Nook, owing to the season and the coastal exposure, which is good for two reasons: firstly, it stops me staying there all day gawking at tubby pups waving their flippers and secondly, it puts a slight cap on the rapidly increasing numbers of visitors. Don't get me wrong, lots of people coming, enjoying seeing the seals and donating to the Trust is a great thing, but if it gets too crowded, it's harder for anyone to enjoy themselves, not to mentions the stacks of burger vans that'll move in (without, I suspect, paying a penny to the Trust for their increased custom), and eventually you can't help worrying that the Trust will get overstretched and the animals disturbed. So I welcome foul weather - it's a natural moderator.

You get a full cross-section of the harsh realities of life in wild even in just a short period of time on that beach. Dead pups who had failed to gain enough weight, fights between huge bulls, rapes, the struggle by new mothers to defend their pups, not just from us, but from aggressive suitors wanting the offspring out of the way to get to the females. According to Trust information, the mortality rate for pups is 10% at Donna Nook, way lower than the average, though it rises to approximately 40% once the pups are out on their own in the sea. It's not an easy existence. You do, however, alongside the more grim aspects, get to see moments like this mother suckling her pup:

So that was our trip to see the seals, or scuba dogs, as a geordie colleague calls them. Oh, and I had to include this guy. He's got a good attitude.

More seal photos can be seen here if you fancy a further (albeit badly shot) peek at colony life.

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