It’s that time of year again!
September sees the start of the period when grey seals pups are born around the Cornish coast and is the perfect time to see white bundles of fluff on our beaches.
It has to be said, winter might not be the best time to produce offspring. These gorgeous pups can really struggle in the first few weeks and stormy weather can lead to pups in the water, causing exhaustion, or becoming separated from their mothers, causing malnutrition.
In such situations, the pups are brought into the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, Gweek, to get rehabilitated before eventually being released back into the wild once they are fit and competing for fish in the water. The first pup of the season came in a couple of weeks ago at only a day old, named Morwenna after a character in the infamous Poldark stories. She is absolutely beautiful. Her coat is still white, as a majority of grey seal pups are when they’re born. They shed the coat after roughly 3 weeks, developing their shorter grey fur at around the same time they are weaned from mum. These first few weeks can be challenging and Storm Aileen hasn’t made life any easier for the marine mammals. In fact, the sanctuary is starting to get busy already, with quite a few pups being brought in needing assistance.
The seal sanctuary now rescues around 65+ seal pups every year, giving them round the clock care, building them up to be released through nutrition and medical assistance. They are kept in the hospital for their first stage of rehabilitation. This concentrates on building the pups up to a healthy weight, weaning them off milk or fish soup and on to solid fish and giving them any medical assistance they might require; especially important if the pups comes in with wounds. Some pups can be in a very sorry state when they arrive, this can be due to getting caught in netting or other marine litter, being bashed against rocks by strong seas or even bitten by other seals – some adult males can become territorial and lead them to attack pups which are not their own, so life can be tough for these creatures. Any such wounds are treated at the sanctuary and as the pups become stronger, they are eventually moved into outdoor pools with a variety of different aged seals to help teach them that fish comes from the water and how to hunt and compete for food. If they have no long term medical issues, are at a healthy weight and fending for themselves, they will be released back into the ocean to enjoy the rest of their lives. Pups are tagged with unique colour and number combinations and they are regularly spotted, doing well in the wild. One female seal was released over 20 years ago and is still doing well, having given birth to many of her own pups along the way. Males expected lifespan is 25 years in the wild and females 35, so she still has some life in her yet!
Grey seals are doing well in our waters, with Britain enjoying around 40% of the worldwide population along the coastline. The Conservation of Seals Act 1970 have led to reduced persecution of the mammals. In previous years, seals were killed due to being a ‘nuisance’ or ‘disturbance’, however they are now protected during breeding season, September to February, however they can be killed ‘humanely’ if there is thought to be a threat to fish or fishing equipment. There are still issues of course; in 2015 there were claims that in Scotland, hundreds of seals were being unlawfully killed in order to protect fish farms and there are sometimes suspicions that such acts occur in Cornwall, however overall, the killing of seals has been dramatically reduced over the last few years and the species has a very stable population.
What can you do to help?
Stay well away! Always watch seals from a distance and do not attempt to touch a pup or let your dogs get close. If you are concerned about a pup then observe it for a while; mum may leave it to go and find food and won’t appreciate you interfering with her pup whilst she is gone.
If you think a pup has been left for too long, has wounds, is caught in marine litter or is being hassled, then give the Cornish Seal Sanctuary a call on 01326 221361. The team can give you advice on what the next steps to take will be.
NEVER pick a pup up and NEVER attempt to pick a pup back in the sea. Some pups will not be able to swim yet and they can also have quite a nasty bite which will require yourself or your dog getting immediate medical attention.
Help to keep seals and other marine animals’ safe by never dropping litter and cleaning up beaches when and where possible.