Seals – the real deal
The north Norfolk coast is a wonderful place for wildlife watching, not least of all because of its seals. A boat trip around Blakeney Point to view the mixed seal colony, is time and money well spent. The colony has been growing steadily since 1993, now standing at several hundred and is made up of two separate species. Common seals (or Harbour Seals), which prefer calmer water, often travelling inland along tidal rivers, and Grey Seals who spend most of their time out at sea.
So which is which?
Grey Seals have a flattened “Roman Nose” – a continuous profile from head to nostrils without a concave “dish” characteristic of most dogs, cats and Common Seals, which also have very prominant V-shaped nostrils. It isn’t always that easy to tell – they move; you may only get a glimpse of a head popping out of water; it may have its back to you … see if you can sort these out.
Common Seals produce pups between June and August. They can swim almost immediately and may be seen out on mud flats and sand banks. Grey seals are born between November and January and their young cannot swim until they have shed their first white coat. They are restricted to dry land for their first three or four weeks, and can be seen on beaches during this period. These can mistakenly be taken for “abandoned”.
Seals will, if undisturbed, stay on beaches for several hours. This is normal. It doesn’t mean they are stranded, exhausted or diseased. They are reletively slow on land which might reinforce the idea that they are in trouble. Usually they aren’t. If you approach them – particularly adults – beware. Better still – don’t. They are aggressive and will bite despite their cuddly persona. Keep your dog on a lead and leave it alone or, if you genuinely believe there is a problem, call someone trained to deal with seals – Seal and Bird Rescue Trust in Ridlington are brilliant.
Being a seal is not always easy, especially if you are a pup born when the weather is starting to get harsh, and windswept seas are more common place. Separation of pups from mothers can and does occur during stormy conditions, and single pups found on the beach nearly always need help – but before interfering, be sure the mother is not nearby. As a rule of thumb, wildlife knows how to survive, and seals are better at being seals than we are!
You may remember some time ago – 2002 – seals dying from Distemper virus infection in this region and the potential danger this presented to our dogs. It affected Common Seals mainly. Although Grey Seals were infected they appear to have suffered little clinical damage. The risk to dogs appeared more theoretical than practical. People still worry that seals may present a disease threat to their dogs, so by making sure he or she is vaccinated up to date against Distemper, any threat, real or perceived, is minimised.
While my wife and I were in Nambia more years ago than I care to remember, we came upon a colony of Cape Fur Seals. We took several rolls of film and hours of video footage. The sight, sound and overpowering smell, was mesmerising, the experience unforgettable. I have included video highlights of that colony. It’s a stark contrast to the sleepy colonies basking on Blakeney Point.