A Gray Seal Baby Boom Is Under Way
These are baby photos you definitely want to share on Facebook.
Since December 2,426 gray seal pups have been born on Blakeney Point, a spit of land on England’s north coast, making it the country’s largest seal-breeding site. The number of new births 14 years ago was 25.
Officials consider the flourishing colony remarkable because even though gray seals have lived on the point for at least a century, they just began breeding there in 2001.
In December 2013, a huge tidal surge destroyed many seal rookeries on England’s east coast, separating hundreds of pups from their mothers. But Blakeney Point’s colony was unaffected.
“Blakeney Point is a really great area because it’s got a nice, shallow, sandy beach,” said Victoria Egan, Norfolk coast countryside manager for the National Trust. “It’s not rocky, dangerous, or surrounded by high seas. We look after it to give the seals the space they need to breed and look after their pups without being disturbed.”
The preserve also provides a few vantage points where seal-loving members of the public can view the animals.
An ecotourism economy has sprung up around the seals, with local operators offering boat rides to see them from the best vantage point: the water. “A lot of people earn their livelihood from the seals,” Egan said. “The seals are around year-round, joined by thousands of birds in summer, like terns and gulls.”
Gray seals are abundant on both sides of the North Atlantic, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. In the United States, federal law protects gray seals. But Canada, Norway, and Iceland have periodically allowed seal hunting and the selling of seal products.
Because some regard gray seals as competition for valuable commercial fish catches such as cod, there are occasional calls for gray seal culls. The scientific evidence on this is mixed, however.
Aside from sharks and overzealous seal watchers, hazards to most gray seals include disease, fishing gear entanglement, illegal hunting, and pollution.
Gray seals in the Baltic Sea are a special case. This subspecies’ numbers plummeted 30 to 40 years ago under pressure from overhunting, ship collisions, and pollution. The Finnish government claims there are around 30,000 gray seals in the Baltic, but wildlife advocates estimate that only 10,000 survive.