PUPPY LOVE
BBC Wildlife|November 2021
In the autumn, thousands of seals come ashore in one of Britain's most spectacular natural events
Mike Dilger

While the whiskery face of a grey seal popping out of our coastal waters will always remain a delight to spot, in no way could this fleeting view be labelled a ‘spectacle’. For the real seal deal you should instead head to a select number of beaches around our coastline, which at this time of year play host to an astonishing annual fiesta of synchronised pupping, before the boorish bulls then gate-crash the party with just one thing on their minds: mating again.

One of just two pinnipeds breeding along our coastline, the other being the common (or harbour) seal, it is ironically the grey seal that is more abundant. Greys were originally thought to have bred across the entire northern Atlantic until the end of the last Ice Age, when the population was effectively split between the east and west sides of the ‘pond’. And with Britain holding the majority of the eastern stock of seals, our convoluted coasts host about 45 per cent of the entire world population during the breeding season.

The mass production of grey seal pups is very much an autumnal phenomenon. Having spent the previous nine months fattening up out at sea, the pupping season kicks off when the first pregnant females begin hauling themselves up the beach. Favoured birthing spots tend to be both smooth and sandy, and anywhere from above the high-tide line to in amongst sand dunes several hundred metres from the water’s edge.

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