Through November and December, grey seals come to Donna Nook, a beach in Lincolnshire about half an hour from where I live in Cleethorpes, to give birth, rear their pups and mate. The area is a wildlife trust, and volunteers monitor the site to count the number of seals, to provide information to visitors, and to make sure that humans respect the local environment and the seals.
It was a spectacular experience, and I highly recommend visiting. We were lucky to catch a beautiful sunny day, and we saw lots of seal pups nursing, napping, and gallivanting around. We saw a few bulls challenging each other in the distance, and lots of seals just relaxing in the mud. Many of the seals were very close to the fence, and did not seem bothered by the people watching. They are huge, bulky animals, and watching them move on land manages to be both funny and magnificent.
The pups are white for the first few weeks, coming into their darker fur as they get ready to go out to sea. We didn’t witness a birth, though we did see one pup and mother right afterwards, the afterbirth on the ground and the pup still wet with placenta.
The one thing that absolutely blew my mind was the amount of noise that the seals make. They sing. It’s easy to imagine where legends of mermaids and selkies and seaside ghosts come from – on a dark day it would be absolutely haunting. Their sounds range from grunts to howls to coos and murmurs.
Turn up the volume and watch this video to hear a little bit of seal singing (and my UK English translator doing his seal impression):
Here’s another short video I took of a seal pup nursing:
It was a terrific day trip, an experience that I would highly recommend. For more information about Donna Nook and the grey seals, check out http://www.lincstrust.org.uk/donna-nook