We have lost our large land predators but grey seals offer a chance to see animals which rival the big cats of Africa for size and strength.
During the breeding season females are fought over by males which at 2.5m long and 310kg, can be larger and heavier than tigers. It’s a drama which plays out just over the dunes on beaches every December and January.
While the smaller common seal gives birth to swimming pups, greys have a different strategy.
Their plump white young stay ashore for around a month whilst they are fattened in preparation for North Sea life.
Pups are typically born at 10 per cent of their mother’s bodyweight and add 1kg per day during their time on the beach by drinking rich milk which is 60 one per cent fat. They hit the water at around 45kg. Meanwhile, the courting adults don’t eat at all and can lose a quarter of their body weight.
The scientific name, Halichoerus grypus, means ‘hook nosed sea pig’. The long curved muzzle this alludes to is particularly evident on the males. Using binoculars you may notice that their nostrils form longer, more parallel slits than those on a common seal which make a ‘V’.
Although the grey seal is globally rare, Britain has 40 per cent of the world population. If you go to see the seals, please follow the directions to minimise disturbance to the pups – and the risk from the bulls. They look cumbersome (some weigh over 300kg) but can climb walls and cross ditches. Aside from their rowdy behaviour you might also be struck by their rather distinctive smell, like crude oil!
You can help Suffolk Wildlife Trust secure better protection for Suffolk seas and wildlife, including grey seals, by visiting www.suffolkwildlifetrust.org or calling 01473 890089.
The volunteer diving organisation Seasearch is run by the Marine Conservation Society and supported by The Wildlife Trusts. For details, visit its website at www.seasearch.co.uk