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A seal pup pictured by Stephen
The secret life of seals
By Laura Joint
The South West's so-called seal man, Stephen Westcott, has made it his life-long task to monitor the region's grey seal population.
For almost 20 years, Stephen Westcott has been scouring the seas around Devon and Cornwall, looking for grey seals.
He has identified all the beaches, sea caves and islands used by seals, from the Isles of Scilly in the west to the Exe estuary in the east.
The main 'headquarters' of the grey seal in the region is Lundy, off the North Devon coast.
Off the south coast of Devon, there are just two regular sites where you can spot grey seals - at the Mew Stone off the River Dart, viewable from Froward Point, and at Peartree Point, south of Start Point.
Stephen intends to monitor the seals 'forever'
Stephen, based in Dartmouth, has just set up the Devon Seals Monitoring Group to carry on the work he has already done.
"It is essential to carry on monitoring what is happening with the seals," said Stephen.
"We need to know where they are, what their numbers are, where they have their pups, where they do their inshore stuff, and what their gender ratio is."
Grey seal numbers peak from late August to mid October, but even then there will only be some 30 or so off the South Devon coast at any given time.
Stephen explained: "Devon is their frontier on the English Channel. They're not regularly seen east of Devon, not till you reach Norfolk."
The study is backed by the Government's nature body, Natural England, (formerly English Nature), and Stephen hopes to work with other conservationists with the monitoring.
Grey seals enjoy peace and quiet
When he first started monitoring the seal population, little was known about their activities. But using repeatable and comparable methods, Stephen now knows about their distribution and habits.
He has introduced a programme of photo identification of seals - each seal has its own individual markings. The idea is to compile a rough life history of all the seals in Devon's waters.
His monitoring methods are carried out at a distance, so as not to disturb the seals. Disturbance is a major issue for the creatures, particularly from people who get too close to them.
"They like peace and quiet, and if they are disturbed, they'll just leave."
Stephen says he intends to continue seal monitoring "forever," in the hope the information will encourage the Government to take action to protect them.
If you want to join the Devon Seals Monitoring Group, you should send an email to:
Beware - Stephen's name is spelt differently in the email address.
last updated: 21/02/2008 at 15:39