Where to see seal pups
40% of the entire world population of Atlantic grey seals make their home around the coasts of Britain, especially on the rocky northern and western shores and islands. Along the more sheltered east coast there are just four breeding sites, with the largest amongst the dunes of Donna Nook in Lincolnshire. Having spent the lazy summer days out at sea, as winter bites the seals return to the shelter of the dunes to give birth to their young and do their courting.
Watch the soap opera of a seal colony at its busiest
Find seal pups
You can see seals all around the British coasts. Check out our special spots below:
Cumbria Wildlife Trust
A new live-action camera has been installed at one of Cumbria’s most spectacular nature reserves, South Walney Nature Reserve, on Walney Island near Barrow. This spot is the main haul out site for grey seals in the North West of England. Seals can be spotted in the water around the reserve (usually at high tide). However, there is no access to the protected beaches on the reserve to see the seals. The new webcam installed by Cumbria Wildlife Trust now provides the perfect opportunity to watch these charismatic creatures up close as they haul out to rest.
Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust
The best place to see grey seal pups (and the second largest colony in the country) is at Donna Nook NNR, Lincolnshire. Here up to 3,000 adults return to breed every winter, with more than 1,000 pups produced in a good year. The wardened viewing area in the dunes gives you the opportunity to get up close (sometimes very close indeed!) to the action.
Manx Wildlife Trust
The Calf of Man on the Isle of Man is a seal breeding and pupping area –53 pups born on the Calf in 2015. Annual pup surveys have taken place here every October since 2009. The seals can be seen all year around the Island but the main places to see them are from the Sound looking over to the Calf of Man and Kitterland. However, they can also be seen around Maughold head and Langness; including Peel harbour. If you want to see the seals on the Calf of Man you will need to book a boat trip with a local skipper out of Port St Mary but seals can be seen from the coasts around the Isle of Man.
What to look for
Bull seals measuring up to two metres in length and weighing a whopping 300kg in weight, spend late October and early November staking out beach territories. The females arrive soon after, looking for a quiet spot to give birth, and leading to noisy clashes between males who want to claim them for their ‘harem’. For cute pups, come at the end of November. The colony reaches peak activity (and noisiness) in mid-December, with fighting males and over a thousand pups. By the end of January, the parents have left, and the last of the seal pups head seawards.
Visit in the morning, when the light is at its softest. At busier spots like Donna Nook, a weekday visit is best to avoid crowds. Remember to bring your camera, as there will be plenty of photo opportunities here! Dogs and baby seals don’t mix, and our four-legged friends can pass diseases on to seals, so leave the dog at home. No matter how appealing they may look, don’t touch!
If you can't get to these places
Grey seals live all around our coasts. Pupping season is different in each colony: September is the best time in Cornwall and Pembrokeshire, October in the north of Scotland. Anytime you’re by the sea, keep an eye out for an inquisitive head bobbing up out of the waves. They can be told from their smaller cousin, the harbour or common seal, by their profile: Grey seals have a long sloping forehead with a ‘Roman’ nose’, like an English bull terrier, while common seals have a shorter, stepped snout and a cuter, more cat-like face.
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