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Seal cycle

Courting, mating and birth is a dramatic affair for grey seals.

September, summer's end, and the first seal pups have already been born. Life is easy while the weather is fine, but it's now a race against time. Autumn is coming and so are the first storms of the season. The biggest bull seals have claimed their territories, and any cows that have already given birth to their young. Lying at the top of the rocky beach, safe from all but the highest of tides, the pups feed only every five to six hours. Mothers recognise their offspring by smell. The milk is so rich they can take their fill in only six minutes. And growth is fast. Bulls fight for the best beaches and the right to mate with the cows. It's now or never, their only chance this season. Courtship is a playful affair. But a seal's life is more complex than it appears. Incredibly, soon after the egg is fertilised, any further growth is suspended until spring. Although cow seals carry their pups for a whole year, development of the young actually takes just nine months. The bull seals are kept busy as there may be several cows in each territory. And any that are missed may be mated by other lower ranking males. So courting continues apace. Seal pups are weaned in just three weeks - then they're on their own. Meanwhile it's a cruel twist of fate that an animal about to spend much of its life at sea, is in most danger while still on land. A fifth of all new born pups die in the first few weeks of life - victims of starvation, disease or dashed against rocks by the waves. So it's just as well seals can swim from birth. A full year will pass before its mother returns once again to breed. And perhaps several more before this pup comes back to the island of its birth. For this is just the beginning of its life on a wild frontier at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

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5 minutes