Saturday, 3 October 2015

Seals Seals Seals

It’s that time of year again; the island has switched from breeding seabirds to breeding seals.  So far we've had over 100 pups born on Skomer this season!

Here on the Pembrokeshire Coast the pupping season begins at the end of every August, a good two months or so before any little white pups appear on the East Coast of England.  Unlike the vast expanses of sand at Donna Nook or Blakeney Point, the boulder beaches, coves and caves around the island provide homes to the seal pups on Skomer.

South castle cove/cave on the Neck (photo A. Dodds)

Castle Bay on the Neck (photo A. Dodds)

The Skomer Marine Nature Reserve is host to over 200 grey seal pups during the breeding season each year.  Every day the team here check on all the different coves and beaches around the main island and the Neck to see if there are any new born pups, how the pups are developing and the general behaviour of the pups and their mums.  However, with all the seal pups being white and fluffy for a few weeks, identifying who’s who can become tricky – especially when we have beaches with over 15 pups at once!

To make it possible to distinguish who’s who in each cove, we scramble and abseil down the cliffs and mark the pups with different colour spray on dyes.

Abseiling down to South Castle cave (photo A. Dodds)

Abseiling down the Wick (photo B. Buche)

Using the different colour combinations on the pups enables us to keep track of the progress of each pup and if there are any new arrivals.  The spray used is the same spray that farmers use on flocks of sheep, so it isn't harmful to the animals.  So if you’re ever looking at seals around Skomer and see a multi-coloured pup, don’t be alarmed!

Bee spraying one of the pups (photo P. Reufsteck)

Monitoring the pups and mothers like this enables us to calculate the number of pups born on the island, their mortality rate and how many successfully survived.  Photo identification work is also carried out on Skomer, and so we can monitor if we have returning mothers, new mothers, and their behaviour during the breeding season.

Having a snooze on South Haven (photo A. Dodds)

Alex Dodds (Seal Monitoring Assistant)

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