For much of the year grey seals are out at sea or hauled out on far away sandbanks, but from October to December the seals come ashore to give birth to their pups on the sand dunes of Donna Nook. Donna Nook is home to one the largest and most accessible grey seal colonies in the UK. There are about 3,000 Grey Seals along the coastline, and 900+ pups are born each year. The area is actually owned by the MOD (Ministry of Defence) as a bombing range, but surprisingly the seals seem relatively undisturbed by the military activity and return here year after year. The seals are attracted to the reserve, which covers more than 10km of Lincolnshire coastline, because of food, space, and safety.
This trip was the second time I had visited the reserve, the first being an exploratory trip where I did not manage to get anything spectacular. I want to start off by saying that the best place to see the seals is the viewing station at Stonebridge car park, as you can get within feet of the seals without causing any unnecessary disturbance. However for wildlife photography it is desirable to get on a level with your subject, something that is impossible with the fences at the viewing station. Therefore on my second trip I headed out across the salt marshes further down the coastline.
It took some time for the seals to become accustomed to my presence, but after spending about 45 minutes gradually creeping closer I started to get some great close up and natural images. Two telltale signs that a seal is uncomfortable with your presence are a hissing sound from the mother and the seal rolling over and waving at you with its flippers. If that happens it’s time to back off.
When photographing seals you must be extremely careful as seals are powerful predators. For an immensely heavy and blubbery animal they can move surprisingly quickly and can inflict a very nasty bite, even the milky white pups! Mothers with pups can be very protective and big bulls can be aggressive especially during mating season when they compete for females in vicious and often bloody fights.
DO NOT ever try to touch the seals as whilst they may look cute they are wild animals and a mother seal may abandon her pup if it smells of humans or dogs.
Around 40% of the world’s population of grey seals inhabit the waters around the United Kingdom, making us an integral part of the continued success of these beautiful animals.
When taking wildlife photographs it is always important to remember that the welfare of the subject is more important than the photograph.
Grey seal pups have a milky white coat when they are born, which they can keep for up to 3 weeks. They then begin to moult into their adult coat.
Females are usually silver grey to brown in colour and are generally much lighter than the males.
Adult grey seals have two layers of thick fur and a layer of thick blubber fat to keep them warm when out in the freezing cold oceans.
Grey Seal cows have a life expectancy of 35 years or longer. Unfortunately the bulls rarely live for more than 20-25 years due to the stress and violence of the fights over mating rights.
I feel very fortunate to have been able to capture such a wide range of images, from intimate portraits to natural behaviour, and all topped off with amazing light. It was a truly unforgettable experience and I can’t wait to go back next year!
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