Grey Seal Pup
Photograph © Debbie Bozkurt
Benebecula - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
29th October, 2006
Seal Pups and their Mothers
Female seals are the sole providers of care for seal pups.
(Males adult seals have fighting together as their occupation)
At birth newborn seal pups are very small and shrivelled, just as are human babies, they only weigh about 15kg.
|The seal mothers feed the pups about 3 litres of milk a day.
Seal milk is almost 60% fat, and the seal pups very quickly fill out into little barrel shapes.
They put on between 35 and 45 kg in less than 3 weeks.
Seal mothers are called Cows
Both common seal pups and grey seal pups feed from their months for the first 3 - 4 weeks of their lives.
As this happens the mothers lose 70 to 80kg of their own body weight.
At first grey seals pups cannot swim, as they are born covered in white baby fur which is not waterproof, after about 3 - 4 weeks they develop their adult pelts, and leave for the sea to fish for themselves.
Common seal pups usually shed their white non-waterproof fur before birth, and can swim and dive almost as soon they are born, but unweaned pups are not good swimmers, and are often helped along by their mothers.
If you see an older pup hauled out it may be with good reason.
Abandoned or Injured Seal Pups
If you come across an apparently abandoned unweaned seal pup, stay well back and first look very carefully for the mother, scan the sea.
It is probable that the mother has been foraging offshore and is watching you.
If humans go near a mother seal or her pup too often, she will abandon her pup and go out to sea, this usually means death for the pup. Malnutrition caused by pups being separated prematurely from their mothers is the most common cause of illness and death in seal pups.
Obviously, for the same reason keep dogs away.
In some countries where they are trying to protect their seal populations through legislation, it is now against the law for people to go within 100 yards of a seal on a beach to help prevent abandonment of pups.
Mothers do leave their young once they have stopped lactating, usually after 4 - 6 weeks.
|If you can see the seal pup's bones beneath the skin, the pup is suffering malnutrition and may have been abandoned.
(well-fed they are like little round barrels and spend a lot of time sleeping)
|Does it look healthy?
|Healthy eyes are bright and clear, cloudy and damaged ones suggest ill health.
|Are the eyes and the nose running - a lot?
|Is it wheezing or breathing very loudly or unevenly?
|Does it have obvious wounds?
|The sealpox virus causes sores and lesions on fippers, chest and belly - (and is transferable to humans)
Seal pups can give nasty bites. My friend Dennis tells a story of being bitten by a seal pup in the back of a Volvo (stitches were required...) He worked with a seal rescue group, and knew the danger.
It is recommended that you do not attempt to put a seal pup in the sea (some cannot swim in their first month) or to take it home, because injured seals will need 24 hour care in specialist facilities. Injured seal pups are fed a special liquid fish solution by tube.
In the Western Isles we have a branch of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue, a charity that helps rescue stranded cetaceans and rescue and rehab abandoned, ill or injured seals the group are trained volunteers - Marine Mammal Medics.
The Marine Mammal Medics have been trained in how to assess whether seal pups are in need of treatment and how to safely approach and catch them, after which they are transported to Jamie Dyer at the Seal Hospital in Ullapool where the pups are treated and returned to the wild once healthy. They have also been trained in how to assess stranded cetaceans and how to safely refloat them if viable, and how to keep them comfortable regardless. They are available to attend any marine mammal in need 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
The Marine Mammal Medic group in the Western Isles would very much like to increase their numbers of active volunteers in the islands, especially in Harris and the Southern Isles, and plan to run a training course in the spring of 2008. They are looking for people to train as Marine Mammal Medics and also for volunteers to help with fundraising and publicity and people to watch out for seal pups and cetaceans that may be in need of help.
Visit the http://www.bdmlr.co.uk web site for more information.
If anyone sees a seal pup, whale, dolphin or porpoise that they think may be in need of help please telephone:
British Divers Marine Life Rescue Headquarters: 01825 765546 (Store this in your mobile phone!)
Scottish Strandings Co-ordinator (Dead Strandings) 01463 243 030
Incidentally if you do have any cause to touch a seal pup wash your hands afterwards - especially before handling that snack bar to raise your blood sugar. These sea-mammals have such similar physiology to us that we are susceptible to many of the same illnesses.
Keep dogs away from dead ones for the same reason - dead sea-mammals are not just smelly, they are really dangerous, and irresistible to dogs.
Please note, dead marine mammals should be reported to the Scottish Strandings Co-ordinator at the Scottish Agricultural College 01463 243030 (Store this in your mobile phone)
Look at another picture of a cute seal pup and try a different identification technique.
These photographs were taken by Debbie Bozkurt using a powerful zoom lens at a distance. A special thank-you to Debbie for sharing them with us, and I hope you get some common seal pup photographs to share with us in June!
Debbie's online photo album