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The Sinister Side of Seals

When the Highlands: Scotland’s Wild Heart team were planning their trip to the remote uninhabited Orkney island of Copinsay to film the resident seal colony, they did not expect the macabre drama that unfolded before their eyes.

A grey seal pup

Cameraman Raymond Besant was filming a particular male seal, easily identifiable by a pink scar on his nose, when he noticed a big red patch in the water.

He zoomed in for a closer look and could see that the big, aggressive male had something white in his mouth: a pup.

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Growing up on Orkney Raymond had heard fisherman’s tales of seal cannibalism but he thought they were just that, tales.

Raymond Besant
“…I was amazed to see it and almost certain that no one had filmed it before…”
Raymond Besant

It was the last morning of filming on the island and he couldn’t believe the reality of what he was watching.

In the previous few days Raymond had seen this male mating with lots of females, but now he seemed very aggressive, coming out of the sea and chasing females at the water’s edge.

Raymond filmed the scene for about ten minutes. The male seemed to holding the pup by the neck and then dived underwater.

"...It all happened quite fast but he was definitely eating it, he then dropped it and started cruising around again..."

The pressure was mounting for Raymond to capture this sequence in time, as in the distance he could see the boat returning to collect him from the island. He was also worried that the boat would disturb his filming of this rare and incredible behaviour.

Undeterred, Raymond continued to film up until the last minute capturing an incredible range of shots that reveal a darker more sinister side to these large, doe eyed creatures.

The challenges of filming in the wild

The first big challenge was getting on to the island. Access was onto a small jetty and successful landing depended on precisely the right combination of tide and an Easterly wind.

A storm rages of the Isle of Copinsay

The week before the team were due to go, big storms were forecast which could have put the whole trip in jeopardy.

However, a small weather window opened which allowed them to make the journey with experienced boatman and RNLI crew member, Norman Brass who was in charge of their safe passage.

As they approached they could see the island surrounded by white horses and the small jetty being battered by the waves…landing was surely impossible!

However, Norman was confident with the right tide they could land.

They jumped ashore and the boat wasted no time in heading back out to sea leaving them on an uninhabited island with 2,000 seals as the only neighbours 5,000.

With the storm imminent, the first job was to lash everything down.

As the forecast promised, that night brought a howling gale and spectacular pounding waves.

One tent held up well, but the other surrendered to the power of the storm and was no better than a sleeping bin bag!

Despite the challenges the storm brought, Raymond had been secretly hoping for its arrival as it adds a stunning drama to the film.

However, that drama was nothing to the unforeseen one he was about to witness