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About half the world’s population of Grey Seals are found on and around British coasts - and their numbers have doubled since the 1960s. While on land these animals appear awkward and clumsy, but underwater they’re wonderful swimmers.
The Common and Grey Seals can be identified by their muzzles. Common Seals have short muzzles and V-shaped nostrils while Greys have a longer muzzle and parallel nostrils.
The Grey Seals usually dive underwater for about 10 minutes but they can remain submerged for up to 30 minutes.
Before diving they hyperventilate to saturate their blood with oxygen, and expel most of the air from lungs before going in water. This makes them less buoyant and reduces risk of decompression sickness ("the bends"), a condition caused by absorbed nitrogen bubbles expanding within the blood stream.
During the breeding season look out for the white seal pups which stand out from the camouflaged grey adults. Their colour is probably a hangover from when they were born on ice and snow.
Photos courtesy of Gweek National Seal Sanctuary and BBC.
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Watch presenter and naturalist Dr Janet Sumner swimming with seals off the coast of South West England:
Watch video and listen to audio of seals off Cornwall on BBC Nature:
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Seals can be found in coastal environments around the British Isles. One of the best places to watch them is the Isles of Scilly off the south western tip of England. Around 250-300 Grey Seals live on three of the groups of islands.
The female seals and the male bulls can be seen swimming around rocky shores. The biggest bull seals are the ones with the females because these dominant Alpha males get to mate with the cow seals. Younger males tend to be found elsewhere.
Sometimes the seals can be seen on the rocks around the Isles of Scilly especially in late September when there is a chance of spotting the young pups. The first white-coloured pups appear from mid September just before the big October and November storms.
Each seal gives birth to a single pup and the female will suckle its offspring for three weeks. The pup will develop its own blubber layers under creamy white fur. Once the pup has put on about 30 kgs of weight, its mum will abandon it and return to sea. In the meantime she will have mated again.
The young Grey Seal has to be fairly tough to leave the relative security of the "rookery" or nursery and venture into the sea. They must quickly learn to find food and establish their position within the seal colony.
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