Grey Seals: Halichoerus grypi
Major excitement, the first grey seal pup has been born. This fairly plump little fellow has been wowing our guests with his undoubted cute factor! In the whole world grey seals are one of the rarest seals but we are really lucky as 40% of the world’s population lives around the UK and there are a fair number on haul outs that we visit on our trips. So some fun facts;
- Grey seals are the largest land breeding mammal in the UK! The pups are born between September and December, they are born on shore where there are lots of mothers and pups, this pupping area is called a rookery (daft I know!)
- The pups have a fluffy white coat for about 3 weeks when they moult into their adult coat. Until then they cannot swim and are fed by their mother’s milk for 15-21 days.
- Their mother’s milk contains 60% fat, and the pup gets fat really quickly which it needs to do because as soon as it can swim the mother will leave and the pup has to fend for itself and teach itself how to fish. Unfortunately it’s a tough life for grey seal pups and only about 50% survive their first year.
- Adult grey seals have two layers of fur and a layer of blubber to keep themselves warm in the water.
- Their hands and feet are formed into webbed flippers. Their back flippers are used to propel themselves along while they use their tail to steer. They have really powerful shoulders so that they can haul out on wet slippery rocks.
- Grey seals remain underwater usually about 5-10 minutes although they can stay under for up to 30 minutes. They can do this by slowing their heart rate to conserve oxygen and they also have a much higher number of red blood cells than we do which carries oxygen around the body.
- Grey seals hunt with their eyes, ears and amazingly sensitive whiskers which can pick up vibrations in the water, even without their sight these sensitive whiskers and good hearing allow seals to catch fish, blind seals have been seen catching prey and surviving well in the wild. Diet consists of squid and fish.
Finally the grey seal’s scientific name is derived from the Greek for hook-nosed sea pig!!
Yesterday we came across a dead red deer stag in the water being carried on the current out of Cuan Sound. Its always a sad moment to see such a magnificent animal dead, it wasn’t very old perhaps three years from the number of points on its antlers. So how did he die? Well, one theory is that he was a casualty of the annual red deer rut, which occurs every October. During the rut, males compete for dominance and to mate with a harem of females. Mainly the rut is all about display, showing how big you are, how much noise you can make and how smelly you can be! Sometimes stags will tear off bits of bracken with their antlers and roll around in mud to try and make themselves look as large as the can. The most common feature of the rut is the loud roaring noise that competing stags will make. Did you know that this noise actually brings hinds into heat and the noise can carry for more than a mile? Stags can also secrete pheromones from their eyes, toes and genitals which broadcasts information about sex, fitness and age! Mainly the competing stags will strut around side by side assessing each other’s size and strength, very rarely will they actually fight as the risk of serious injury is high. However if they are equally matched (or young and foolish) they may fight and perhaps the poor deer that we saw was the loser in such a battle.
On our trips at the moment we are seeing lots of signs of the rut with broken bracken, muddy areas and lots of large groups of a stag and hinds. It’s great to be out at the moment and see this amazing annual event as well as lots of other exciting wildlife in the area.
We have had an amazing encounter with Sea Eagles this week, we were lucky to be present to watch as an adult Sea Eagle taught two juveniles how to fish! This involved all the birds being in the air, the adult had a bird in its claws which it dropped into the sea, it then flew down and “caught” the prey lifting it out of the water and flying back up to the others. The adult then dropped the prey again and pretty well invited one of the juveniles to go and catch it, the young bird was all wobbly with legs out stretched and took a couple of attempts to grab it and be able to fly off with it. There was then a transfer of the prey mid-air back to the adult who dropped it for the second juvenile, (the sequence of photos shows the first attempted pass, the midair crash, leading to the drop and then the eagles going after the prey)…..what an amazing sight! This aerial display went on for a while with the youngsters practising until they had completely “got it”.
This was a fascinating insight into Sea Eagle family behaviour, its not so different from our own, teaching our kids how to fend for themselves. We feel very privileged to have been able to watch this, and also we feel a we have a stake in how these youngsters get on as we have watched them from the eggs being laid right through fledging and now becoming young adults. Theses juveniles will probably hang around through the winter with their parents, but when the parents lay new eggs next year they will have to head off and find their own territories hopefully not too far away so that we still see them.