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Feature Creature - Grey seal

Credits: P Lightfoot

This wonderful marine mammal is always a welcome sight on our shores - it's the GREY SEAL. Mothers and pups have been busy over winter with breeding and growing on some of the UK's beaches. New youngsters take to the sea for the first time at the start of the year and learn to fend for themselves. 

Fantastic facts:

 

*Favourite foods: sand eels and other fish, crabs and lobsters, soft-bodied sea creatures

 

*Conservation status: half the world's population breed on UK shores and numbers are increasing. They were also the first mammal in the UK to have a law written to protect them

 

*Enemies: killer whales, boat propellers     *Latin name: Halichoerus grypus = hook-nosed sea pig

 

*Life span: up to 35 years for females and 25 for males     *Super power: torpedo-like swimming

 

But what are these lumpy mammals and what can they do? Grey seals are:

 

Quicker than they look

 

You might think these huge, clumsy animals are a bit slow and lazy. Adult males - called bulls - can weigh over 230kg and have layers of blubbery fat that can be as thick as a dictionary. They find it difficult hauling themselves around on land, but in the water they are transformed into agile, speedy predators.

 

The cold waters around the UK would kill a human in minutes, but the fat beneath a grey seal's skin keeps it warm. It's long shape and flippers that are awkward on land are perfect for slipping quickly through the water to chase down or surprise fish and other prey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fluffy

 

When winter arrives in the UK and most of our visiting summer wildilfe has moved on to warmer lands, grey seals begin to think about raising families. From November onwards females return to their favourite beaches to give birth and mate.

 

Young seal pups are covered in white fur when they're born. They have to grow fast as their mums stay with them for only three weeks before returning to the sea. Their mother's milk is very rich and helps them to put on weight quickly. She will stay with her pup during this time and not feed herself, so hunger soon drives her back to the sea. The pup soon follows and must teach itself to hunt for food.

 

 

 

Sea pigs

 

The grey seal's scientific name means 'hook-nosed pig of the sea'. Grey seals have a long face and a dog-like appearance, unlike the other 'sea pig' of the UK, the common seal (pictured here). Despite their name, common seals are in fact rarer than the grey seal and were hit badly by a virus in the 1980's. They have flatter faces than the grey seal.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intelligent 

 

Grey seals are known for being friendly and inquisitive. Watch this underwater video of a curious grey seal playing with a diver's fins.

 

Image credits: Grey seal with rainbow and Common seal by Jamie Hall / Grey seal pup by Bruce Shortland