First seal pups seen on the National Trust’s Farne Islands
The first Atlantic grey seal pups of the season have been spotted on the Farne Islands, just off the Northumberland coast.
Globally, the Atlantic grey seal is one of the rarest seal species and is a protected sea mammal. Global numbers are estimated to be around 300,000 with half living in British and Irish waters.
The Farnes is home to one of the largest colonies in England and last year seal pup numbers reached a record high of 2,737 – an increase of 57 per cent over the last five years.
The sighting of the first pup of the year triggers the start of the seal pup count by National Trust rangers on the islands, and they’ll be waiting to see if the upward trend continues.
The rangers, who live on the Islands for nine months of the year, count the seals every four days in the autumn once pupping season begins, weather permitting. Once born, they’re sprayed with a harmless vegetable dye to indicate the week they are born. Using a rotation of three or four colours allows the rangers keep track of the numbers.
Ranger Thomas Hendry commented: ‘We wait until the first pups are born and then begin the process of counting and marking all pups born on the Islands.
A lack of predators and a plentiful supply of fish – has helped bolster our seal pup numbers in recent years.
Over the next few years we will monitor the effect of a growing seal population to manage the island habitats accordingly.‘.
Following a successful trial last year, rangers will use a drone to help make the count more accurate and less stressful for the seals.
Thomas continued: ‘The drone gives us an excellent view of the islands and from the clear images we can count the total numbers of seal pups on each island. As the footage is taken whilst we are spraying, we use the image counts to check against the numbers we get on the ground.
It also allows us to see onto the smaller islands which are more challenging to land in difficult sea conditions.‘.
The seals are born with bright white fluffy coats. Although the pups can swim at an early age they don’t normally leave the breeding colony until they have been weaned and after they have moulted their soft white coats. This happens when they are about two or three weeks old and their dense grey waterproof fur grows through.
For more information about the Farnes visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/farne-islands For information on how you can help support our work on the coast, visit https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/appeal/coast-campaign-appeal
– ends –