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24 September 2014

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Nature of Britain

You are in: Cornwall > Nature of Britain > Seal Watching

A sleeping seal pup c/o:

Seal Watching

Seals can be seen around the coast of Cornwall all year round. The Cornwall Seal Group monitors the movement of seals and pups around the north Cornwall coast. Find out more about their work, and enjoy a photo gallery.

Britain has two resident species of seal: grey and common seals.

It's the grey seals that you are most likely to see in Cornwall.

Seals in Cornwall

Seals on the beach -

Seals range greatly in size and weight, from the 60-80kg ringed seal to the four tonne southern elephant sea bull.

Around 120,000 seals breed along the coast of the British Isles.

Enjoy a photo gallery showing seals on and around Cornwall's beaches:

Male grey seals are much larger than the females, and have broad shoulders, an elongated snout and a heavy muzzle.

The females have a thinner snout and a less rounded profile. They vary in colour from dark brown to grey or black with blotches, and females tend to be paler than the males.

Grey seals split their time between beaches, sand and mud banks along our Cornish coast, where they rest, mate, give birth and moult, and the Irish Sea, where they feed on a variety of fish, shellfish, squid and octopus.

Monitoring the seals

The Cornwall Seal Group was set up to monitor the presence (or absence) of seals in a north Cornish coast colony. The members aim to reduce disturbance of the seals to make sure the colony stays at its current location.

Cornwall Seal Group

The Cornwall Seal Group

A digital identification photo album for seals on the north Cornwall coast has been built up since June 2000 and is now being shared with group members.

Identification work requires considerable patience, creativity and a commitment to regular (and often lengthy) visits to to local winswept clifftops.

The group was set up by Sue Sayer, following her growing interest in seals around the local coastline.

"I began by enjoying seals bobbing effortlessly in the surf, but it wasn't long before I needed a pair of binoculars," says Sue.

"These proved to be a revelation as one day down by Gwennap, I discovered that seals hauled out onto the tidal rocks just offshore. I think this was a turning point for me, as my natural curiosity kept raising questions about the seals I was seeing."

The Cornish autumn is a busy time for the Seal Group.

Seal pup counts continue as local experts make trips into the birthing caves.

"I make occasional trips to other local coves in search of white coat pups and their mothers," says Sue.

Seals in the sea

Seals in the surf:

"Males can be seen loitering outside birthing caves in the hope of mating with females after they have weaned their pup. Juvenile males may briefly challenge the resident male for supremacy and access to the females in the cave. Haul out numbers are not spectacular, averaging around 15 individuals. Inquisitive seals bottle and swim around the wave cut platform, curiously observing the last of the tourists enjoying the end of the summer season's activities."

The group monitors individual seals by their coats.

"Every grey seal has a unique set of markings on its coat, which it keeps for most of its adult life, despite moulting its fur completely on an annual basis," says Sue.

"I digitally video seals visiting the colony and at home take still images from this to identify individual seal markings. A telescope helps with on-site ID."

It has taken Sue and her group more than four years to build up their documents of more than 300 different grey seals. Any newly sighted seals can be compared to the existing catalogue.

Did you know?

Like humans, seals can't breathe underwater. But unlike us, they empty their lungs of air before submerging for periods of about eight minutes, or even 13 minutes when at rest, to depths of 50 metres or more.

Their blood contains more oxygen than ours, and that, combined with their ability to slow their heart rate down to 40 beats per minute, enables them to dive and forage for food without frequent visits to the surface for air.

If you live locally and would like more information about grey seals, or the work of the Cornwall Seal group, contact Sue Sayer via the website below:

last updated: 08/11/07

You are in: Cornwall > Nature of Britain > Seal Watching

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