WESTERN MORNING NEWS MONDAY
JULY 17 2006
Face to face with puppy dogs of the sea
With words and pictures, Neil
Hope (right) takes us to the secret world of Lundy Island's seals.
PLAYFUL: Neil Hope's delightful close-up of one of the seals
from the colony which inhabits the shoreline of Lundy Island,
off the coast of North Devon. MN210606_NH_101
ENCOUNTERS with basking sharks, dolphins and even the occasional
whale can be experienced around the British Isles - although
meetings between man and marine mammal are often fleeting at
best, with little in the way of interaction. Seals, however,
are a regular sight along our coastline, and in the Westcountry
there is one place where the playful pinnipeds will welcome you
like puppy dogs of the sea. Twenty miles off North Devon lies
the windswept island of Lundy, a spectacular three-mile-long,
half-mile-wide chunk of granite rising from the Atlantic Ocean.
Visitors are inspired by its sheer cliff faces and the beauty
of its landscape, but beneath its shoreline is a world unseen
to all but a few - the secret world of Lundy's seals. With a
colony of around 60, which doubles in population in summer, Lundy
is one of a handful of places in Britain where diving with seals
is practically guaranteed. Best observed close to their hauling
out spots on the island's rocky shore, they are not the most
graceful of creatures on land, their 6cm-thick layer of blubber
concealing the grace and agility they display beneath the waves.
Some of the old-timers have seen it all before, but the young
seal pups are naturally inquisitive and will approach literally
face to face. Just like their canine cousins during the puppy
stage, juvenile seals will use their mouths to explore new and
interesting playthings, whether it be fins, masks, hoods or even
the dome port of an underwater camera housing. So when you watch
the BBC's Blue Planet and its like, casting envious eyes on deep-ocean
marine life in exotic climes, just remember what can be seen
right here in only a couple of metres of water.
INQUISITIVE: A Lundy seal shows no fear as the photographer
Seals belong to the scientific order Pinnipedia (translated as
fin-foot) which includes walruses, sea lions and fur seals.
The grey seal's scientific name, Halichoerus grypus, derives
from the Greek words meaning 'hook-nosed sea pig'.
The grey seal is the UK's largest carnivore, at an average of
230Kg for the male or bull, and reaching around two metres in
A bull's lifespan is some 30 years, while the female, or cow,
can reach 40.
Pups weigh around 14Kg at birth, but by the time they are weaned
at three weeks of age they have trebled in weight due to the
high fat content in their mother's milk.
Seals eat a variety of fish, squid, octopus, crustaceans such
as shrimp, and even the occasional seabird.
Capable of diving to depths of 200 metres for up to 30 minutes
at a time, the seal utilises a process known as bradycardia,
which allows a reduction in heartbeat from 120 beats per minute
at the surface to four or five per minute during a dive.
Rescue divers assess chance of removing deadly
EARLIER this month, the Western Morning News carried the story of
a Lundy seal, pictured above, victim of a discarded fishing net
which over time has tightened around its neck, leaving the animal
to suffer a probable slow death unless it can be removed. Members
of British Divers
Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) have since visited Lundy to assess
the seal's condition and the possibility of capturing it. Dave
Jarvis, Cornwall co-ordinator for BDMLR, explained the problems
behind such a rescue. "We sent a two-man team to the island
for five days, and during that time the seal was briefly observed
once in the same area as the pictures were taken. Although some
of the seals on Lundy are mainly residents, there is a transient
population which use the island as a half-way house between destinations.
At the moment we are waiting for the seal to reappear, and as
soon as Lundy officials have a sighting we will return to attempt
a capture. If it is successful we will assess whether to remove
the net on site or return to the mainland, where we have a veterinary
surgeon on standby." Should you spot this seal, please call
BDMLR's emergency hotline number, 01825 765546. The registered
charity will also respond to whale and dolphin strandings, as
well as incidents involving sharks, turtles and seabirds. For
those wanting more information or to make a donation, the website
address is www.bdmlr.org.
Campaign reaches out to qualified
NEIL Hope's stay on Lundy was as a guest of Severnside Sub-Aqua
as part of the British Sub-Aqua Club's Go!Dive campaign. Targeted
at the qualified diver who has taken a break from the sport,
the campaign also hopes to attract divers from other training
agencies or those who may have taken a course abroad, and introduce
them to the attractions of UK diving. To find a BS-AC branch
near you, or for more information, call free on 0500 947 202
or visit www.bsac.org.
The amazing antics of the Lundy seals were taken with a housed
digital SLR camera system supplied by locally-based underwater
imaging specialists Cameras Underwater, of Ottery St Mary, Devon.
Established for many years, the leading edge company can supply
everything from a basic point and shoot camera to the top-of-the
range professional setup. Cameras Underwater can be contacted
in on 01404 812277. Their website is: www.camerasunderwater.co.uk.
Neil Hope, July 2006.
Reproduced by kind permission of Neil Hope and the Western Morning News