Notes from the seal cameras, Discovery Centre – Fran Thomas

Isle of May The beach on the cameras is beginning to look quite empty. From the highest count of 105 pups, we had only 51 left on 20th November. This is as expected: it is now six weeks since the first birth on camera – pups are weaned at a maximum of three weeks and leave after another couple of weeks, moulting pup fur. Some remaining pups look like half-shorn sheep, with clumps of white fur in patches, and drifts of fur lying around them on the rocks. But, this does not mean that breeding is all over: we’re still getting newborns, and expect them well into December, so a good range of ages can be seen on camera.

On 20th November there were only five cows on the Isle of May beach. This doesn’t mean that the pups are weaned, as mothers spend a lot of time hanging out in the water just offshore. Lots of mating has been observed, and they often seem to fall asleep together afterwards for about half an hour! I watched some interesting courtship behaviour yesterday: cow and bull had their necks stretched out, with their noses 2 feet apart, calling to each other. She started waving her front flippers. After about twenty minutes, when he actually tried to mate she bit him viciously and he retreated up against the cliff, with her ‘barking’ at him judging by the jerky movements of her body.

An unfamiliar bull appeared at the south end of the beach – with pale spotty fur, and bloody wounds on his head and back. From his open mouth you could see he was vocalising to some nearby cows when the holder of the territory shot out of the sea like a rocket and savaged him, sinking his teeth into his neck and back and driving him off. It would appear that he had heard him from underwater! The young-looking bull that holds this territory is the one most challenged, but he is successfully holding on to his patch.

Craigleith has about 26 pups on camera, much younger than those on the May. Many seem quite brown in colour, but when you look closely they are just caked in mud! A cow is lying really far up the glen, under the big tree. One bull is visible most of the time, sleeping.

After stormy weather last week the Isle of May beach was completely strewn with plastic bottles, plastic bags and sheeting, footballs, buoys and wood. While it may be amusing to watch a seal pup playing with a football, it’s a shocking reminder of the extent of mindless littering that goes on. Perhaps seeing where it all goes can remind visitors of an important environmental message.

Wildlife sightings – Maggie – Sheddan

Last night as I was listening to the wind battering against the window I could hear the roaring seas, always a bad sign. I thought we may have our first call out for seal pup rescue and at 8am, as dawn was breaking, the phone rang. It was Sandy reporting a white coat (seal pup) healthy, fat, with the exact location which is so important. Unfortunately I was not able to attend and, as no local medics were available, I called the SSPCA. Jenny arrived and also spotted the pup. She advised dog walkers and the inquisitive until the feisty pup was taken off to Fishcross (the SSPCA headquarters).

In contrast, last Sunday, a beautiful frosty morning as we approached Inckeith, the wailing, snorting and hissing could be heard echoing around the bay. Bulls patrolled looking for available females. Pups cried like babes and cows hissed, having an occasional altercation with another cow, but it was the bubble blowing, as many just played in the bay heads breaking the surface with wonderful gurgles and snorts. I headed off to spot any birds on the islands but found myself sitting listening to all these wonderful noises alerting me to each individual situation unfolding on this magical morning.


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