Rory champion photography

EXPLORING WILDLIFE, LANDSCAPES AND NATURAL HISTORY THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY

Seal life centre: Norfolk’s latest tourist attraction

Grey seals are making a real splash in more ways than one on a beach on the Norfolk coast. Each Autumn, scores of grey seals come ashore at Horsey and Winterton on the Norfolk coast to breed and give birth to young, and it's a spectacle not to be missed. November is a hive of activity as this 'haul up', as it's known, begins and hundreds of seals come ashore to start their breeding season. As autumn turns to winter, mother seals give birth to their white, new-born pups - on the cuteness scale it's almost off the charts, and is the main reason this has generated a great deal of interest in the area, with hundreds of people per day visiting at the busiest times in January and February when the majority of new-borns have arrived.
Two young seals playing on the beach

Two young seals playing on the beach

The UK's coastal waters are home to almost 50% of the world's grey seal population, although when it comes to breeding their requirements are quite specific, as, just like people, they prefer nice expansive, sandy beaches to give the new-born pups enough protection from the elements. Indeed, in some locations it's a race against time for the pups to grow strong enough before they get swept off the beach by the surf.
Norfolk Seal pup

Norfolk Seal pup

Whilst the sight of white baby seals is not to be missed and is what most people come for, the pups aren't actually capable of doing a great deal. In fact, the most animated behavior takes place early on in the season before most of the pups have arrived, particularly in November and December, as adult males compete for the attention of the females and chase one another in the surf. Some, it seems, were already paired up and spent hours cavorting and lolling around in the surf together, whilst other males were still jostling for position and trying their luck with the single females. A note for visitors: New-born seals are particularly vulnerable, both to the elements (as their coats are not yet waterproof) and visitors (with their dogs) getting too close. Whilst visitors are encouraged to remain behind the barriers, some seals find their way up the dunes, so be extra careful and keep your distance. The best way to get close up is to simply sit on the beach nearby the main haul-up and wait for seals already in the water to swim right up to you, as they are often as curious about you as you are of them. I found wearing a black coat attracted them further, perhaps they thought I was a large bull seal! Try not to make any sudden movements though, as they can be quite skittish.

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