Saturday 24 October 2015

The Trials of Life

The seal season on Skomer is (I do admit) my favourite time of year. I love the autumnal feel, the brown sea of Bracken and Yorkeshire Fog glowing in the rays of the low sun, the storms that make the island and its inhabitants shudder, the migrant birds that stop over and of course the seals, their howling, even their stench and most of all their personal stories.

They are the most amazing story tellers, they tell us stories of requited and unrequited love, of abductions and adoptions, of fights against the elements and of care and devotion. You might think I am exaggerating a bit? Have a read of the following account and you will surely agree with me:

This year, for the first time (ever?) a Grey Seal female decided to pup opposite the Garland Stone. On the 2nd of September she gave birth to the 16th pup of the season. The next day Leighton found the pup and texted us about it. He wrote: "Seal pup at the Garland Stone", we answered "Leighton, there are NEVER seal pups at the Garland Stone, you must be mistaken, that is surely an immature seal" whereupon he replied indignantly: " I have a photo, I can profe it!" And so he did. There was really a seal pup on the slabs just underneath the rocky outcrop overlooking the Garland Stone.

Pup 16 on the 3rd of September, just a day old
Mum isn't far away

Once the pup was big enough we abseiled down to were it was laying and marked it with a black dot. We thought it would be very interesting to follow it's movements when it gets washed off the cliff.

9th of September: Marking the pup

However, to our surprise the pup didn't disappear but hung on in its exposed location, it and it's mum showed an amazing amount of stubbornness and endurance.

As we sprayed it we noticed that the pup had a black eye and we assumed that it had been bashed around by the waves a bit. But we were complete and utterly speachless when my friend Pia Reufsteck showed us the footage she took on the 13th of September: Our seal pup number 16 was laying on the cliff with the sea roaring underneath, the sea was lapping further and further up the cliff until finally... 

The seal pup's mum was in the water looking after her offspring, desperately trying to get the pup back up onto the cliff.

 And finally, both of them made it. 

They settled down as if nothing had happended...

"I've got you!"
...and the pup got a well deserved drink.

The picture below is the last we have of pup 16. It was taken on the 23rd of September. The pup is 20 days old, a healthy size 3 and even from a distance one can see the shed puppy fur around it. Its mum is nowhere to be seen - she has mated again and gone back out to sea to feed after more than three weeks of nuturing her pup and not eating herself. The pup is now left to its own devices.

I am sure you will agree that this pup's mum deserves an Outstanding Mothers Award. What an achievment to raise a pup in such conditions.

Aren't they fabulous, our Grey Seals?

(Skomer Warden)


  1. Remarkable .How did the young seal get of the cliff?

  2. Seals are quite good at climbing and at high tide the water is much closer, so it just scrambled down.