First seal pups spotted on the Farne Islands

Farne Island seals

The first seal pups of the year have been spotted by our rangers on the Farne Islands off the Northumberland Coast.

The first sighting of a seal pup has been announced by the rangers on the Farne Islands off the Northumberland Coast.  The annual seal count, carried out by the resident rangers, is triggered by the birth of the first pups.

Healthy numbers

Every year, over 1500 pups are born on the islands, which is one of the largest Atlantic grey seal colonies in England with a population estimated at 5000.  The breeding season for seals on the Farnes sometimes starts as early as mid-September with the majority of pups being born in October and November.  Rangers from conservation charity the National Trust spend three months each autumn monitoring the success rate of the breeding seals. 

Counting seals

The rangers, who live on the Islands for nine months of the year, count the seals every four days, weather permitting.  Once born, they’re sprayed with a harmless dye to indicate the week they are born; using a rotation of three or four colours allows the rangers keep track of the numbers.

Ranger Jen Clark commented:

“Once all the seabirds have gone, our attention soon turns to the seals.  This is always an exciting time of year, waiting for the first pup to be born.  It’s impossible not be won over by the bright white, fluffy, wide-eyed pups.  Even though we will hopefully see more than 2,000 pups over the coming weeks, the cute factor never wears off.”

Thriving seals

The grey seals are thriving on the Farne Islands:  the record seal count was 2,041 in 1971 and this was exceeded last year (2016) with a count of 2,295 – the first time we have surpassed 2000 since the 70s. In 2015, the count rose by 7.8% to 1,876.  A lack of predators and a plentiful supply of sand eels – which makes up about 70% of the seals’ diet – contribute to the success of the colony.  The rangers have also noticed changes to the location of the rookeries (the breeding sites for the seals): whilst more pups used to be born on the islands of North and South Wamses, now many seals try to breed on Brownsman and Staple islands.  This has resulted in mortality rates dropping, possibly because these islands offer better protection from storms and high seas.

Although the pups can swim at an early age they don’t normally leave the breeding colony until they have been weaned and moulted their soft white coats.  This happens when they are about two or three weeks old and their dense grey waterproof fur comes through