Thursday, 8 December 2011

Seal Action

Monday morning and a rushed trip out to the island to help with the closing down. Storms are forecast for later on in the week and the seal researchers have finished their work for the year so it is time to help them get their stuff off, drain down the water system and close down the buildings for the winter....and quickly. But in between cleaning out cupboards, bagging laundry and other such joyful tasks I had a chance to wander around the island. Many of the seals have left the island already, it seems like either a very early season or not so many pups as usual have been born this year but there were still plenty dotted around all corners. Most of these are weaners, that is this years pups whose mothers have feed them and then left them. They lie around for a while wondering when their next feed is coming before eventually heading out to sea. If you go quietly you can get quite close to them and it gave me a chance to have a closer look at these amazing animals.

They have fantastic whiskers. They are incredibly sensitive and they use them for finding food underwater where there isn't much light.
Some of the weaners spend lots of time messing around in muddy pools and end up looking like a monster from the deep. This one is coated with mud which shows off its eyebrow whiskers beautifully.
Grey seals do actually have a tail but it is just a short little stubby one that apart from helping with steering doesn't now have much use.
When the grey seal pups are first born that have a white coat. This is thought to be an adaption for when ancestors of grey seals lived on polar ice sheets and shows their geographical origins. This weaner is gradually losing its white coat and getting a mottled adult one. When they are being feed these pups don't move much and afterwards they just sleep so there is often a huge patch of white fluff left on the ground where they have moulted.
The weaners are feed for just 18 days by their mothers and grow at a rate of up to 2 kg a day on a high fat diet. By the time they are weaned if feed properly they are very fat and don't do much.
Eventually they will grow into an adult bull or cow and return to the island after 7 years at sea to start breeding. They are less cuddly and more world weary by then.

But there are always some pups that don't make it, one of the seal researchers, Jo is trying to find out why this is. Even dead they go to provide food for a whole range of creatures that eat carrion and break down carcasses such as gulls, crows, burying beetles and blowflies.

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