Thursday, 17 November 2011

To the land of seals part 1

The welcome committee to the island

There are seals everywhere.

The pups do a lot of sleeping.

The island turns very muddy with 4000+ seals across it.

After nearly 6 weeks off the island Mark and I headed out there on Monday, "refreshed" by day after day of being in the office working on annual reports and other such things. I didn't quite know what to expect having never seen the island in peak seal season. I was going out with Mark just for 1 night, he was checking winter shags, I was clearing up the things I had left when I left the island in a hurry and starting to make shopping lists for next season. But we both wanted to see the seals and the seal researchers. Out there on the island were 6 people who spend a solid 6-7 weeks finding out more about the seals lives than you thought possible. The researchers lifestyle is very different from the seabird researchers, they don't have the interruption of daily visitors coming but they do have to contend with the short days / long nights and the cold, the wet and the mud. Three of them are PhD students, Jo is looking at parasites and pathogens found in the many young seals that don't make it through the first few weeks (the post mortems were fascinating), Amanda and Kelly are looking at pup mother interactions. More about Amanda's work on rarely studied vocalisations on the Isle of May seal blog ( . When you get talking to experts like these you quickly realise how little you know about creatures that you have been looking at all season. For instance, did you know that the mothers only feed their pups for 18 days after birth during which the pups grow from 15kg to 60 kg (that is some diet) ? And did you know that seals have huge amounts of blood which they use to store oxygen in the haemoglobin rather than hold in it their lungs when they dive? In 2 short days I learned loads but barely scratched the surface.
The island itself was showing an entirely different side. Damp, grey, bleached and muddy (sounds like an standard August day) initially it looked spent and dormant but actually it heaved with life. Seals were everywhere, I couldn't believe where they had got to. These are not animals that just lie on beaches a few feet from the sea but roam all of the place, some were up at the top of the cliffs while others had made themselves at home next to Evelyn's purple shed, hundreds of yards away from the shore. Their grunts, growls, wails and cries carried on the wind, sounds at times like a school group had just landed. At night it gave an eerie feel to the place, gives voices to ghost stories. And if you put 4000 seals in a small area for 6 weeks it is going to smell. A sort of farmyard, pig sort of smell that is not totally unpleasant, at least from a distance.
But the seals were all the was to see, tomorrow find out what birds were out there!

1 comment:

  1. I'd never thought of seals smelling before. Amazed to hear how far inland they go. Must be quite a sight.