Friday, 6 October 2017

Bagshot's Story

The seal season is well underway with over 170 pups born so far. We are continuing the Skomer seal study which started 34 years ago and the longer we do it the more interesting it gets. We get very detailed information on population changes as well as survival and birth rates and we also get insight into the life history of individual animals.

Every year we take many hundred seal photos. If a seal has a scar we try to find a match in our existing seal catalogue by comparing the new photo with the old ones. The photos of unscarred seals get uploaded into a Welsh database and a computer will do the matching.

Just the other day we made an amazing discovery: There is this seal called Bagshot or BK-066 and she was found in Perranporth, Cornwall on 11th February 2011 as a 12 week old immature with netting embedded deeply into her neck and chest. She was taken into care by the National Seal Sanctuary, Gweek and the netting was removed. As she was still growing the netting would have most likely strangled her as she got older. On the 21st of May 2011 she was released at Gwithian, Cornwall with a blue flipper tag attached to her hind flipper.

In September 2012 Dave Boyle, who was the Skomer Seal Field Worker, took a photo of a heavily scarred immature female Grey Seal on North Haven beach and noticed she had a blue flipper tag with the number 39. After a bit of research he found out that she came from Cornwall and was called Bagshot (her less inventive Skomer name is BK-066).

In April 2013 Dave photographed her again hauled-out on North Haven beach. She was heavily moulting, so Dave wasn't able to use the pattern of her coat to identify her but her scars make her an unmistakable seal.

And then she was seen again on Skomer by Ed and myself in March 2015. She seemed to return to Skomer regularly and liked hauling-out on North Haven beach. She was becoming a beautiful adult female (ignoring the scars).

This year we photographed her several times between the 9th and 19th of September - again hauled-out on North Haven beach. She did look rather big and we were wondering whether she was pregnant. By now she was in her 7th year and Grey Seals usually start breeding around that time.

And then - hurrah - on 30th of September she was seen with her (probably) first ever pup. The scars are still, after all these years, very raw and it seems that they have burst open again. Maybe it's  because she put on a lot of weight during her pregnancy. She will have to feed her pup, now weighing around 12kg, until it is about 50kg and she won't be able to go hunting whilst doing so. She will use up all her blubber to produce fat rich milk and only after three weeks of suckling will she be able to leave her pup and go back to sea to feed herself.

What an amazing success story and how wonderful that seals have been studied on Skomer so intensely for 34 years so we can tell such tales. We are very fortunate that NRW are funding this incredible piece of research.

(Skomer Warden)

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