Monday, 5 December 2016

Dec 5th Horsey Gap

Grey Seal pup
Imagine being a seal pup born on a beach with your mother beside you. The milk from her is good, making you grow bigger and fatter in just a few weeks. You grow fast from a small white, helpless baby under the watchful eye of your protective mum to a plump, spotty grey individual that is more independent enough to be left alone during that short space of time. You're adored by visiting humans for being cute and fluffy like a playful puppy. But you are not alone. Not only are there other seal pups being born all around you on this stretch of Norfolk coastline to steal the limelight from you, you are also constantly in danger from the elements and from being squashed or attacked by the other adult seals besides your mother. It is not always an easy start in life for a baby seal.
Feeding time!

Grey Seals at Horsey Gap
It is the pupping season for the local grey seals at Horsey Gap and the latest count is 574 pups being born this winter so far. There's also about 721 adult seals on the beach and in the sea. It is becoming another good year for the seals at Horsey and as always is attracting many people to the viewpoints along the dunes to see them. Today, Mum and I have joined the crowds to make our annual visit and with so many seals around, there was a lot to take in.

Playing with a stick!
Cuddle from mum!
"Help me out with this itch please mummy!"

Fighting Grey Seals
Though the pups were adorable in their many growth stages, it was actually the behaviour of the adult seals that was more fascinating to watch. Though at first glance the beach appears to be a nursery, and though this is true, on closer observation, this stretch of beach is also a battleground. Seals were on the move in every direction, moving like blubbery slugs being propelled along the sand at a surprising speed by their two front flippers. All this movement brought them into conflict with their defensive neighbours who were often females protecting their pups and a fight would break out. Fights amongst females were short and scrappy with a lot of snarling and a few moments of biting before one backs down and moves away. However, when it comes to the dominant bull seals in the group, no one messed with them without drawing blood. Most of the other males would rather run than stand and fight these heavyweights!
A bull seal chasing off a rival!
When boy meets girl in the seal world! Its quite brutal!
The whole reason that these enormous bull seals are here is to defend his group of females and chase off the competition by force. A charging bull seal is quite a formidable sight and if I was a rival male seal, I would probably leg it too! I wouldn't want to be a female seal either as when it comes to mating, it looks rather brutal. During our visit today, we witnessed a few matings and they appear more like scenes of rape to me. When the dominant bull approaches a female, she snarls and bites him as if in defence. She clearly does not want him, but as he is much larger and more powerful than she is, he forces himself onto her. She struggles for a few minutes, trying hard to fight him off, but eventually she gives in to him and he mates with her. The mating itself is long with not a lot of movement. They just seem to lay there on the beach together side by side with his manhood just visible between them within his forceful embrace. Not the prettiest thing to witness, but vital in making sure that he is the father and no one else.
Herring Gull meets seal pup
As well as seals, there were also a few birds scurrying around them. Most of them were herring gulls that were busy pestering the pups, but I also saw a couple of sanderlings, a ringed plover and a turnstone, too. Meanwhile, flying over the sea was a skein of cormorants following one another in a V-formation just like geese do. But of course, it was the adorable seal pups that truly stole the show today.

Ringed Plover

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