The relative quiet of August on Skomer Island allows us to catch our breath after the sea bird season. But our seal cows are busy looking for sheltered rocky coves, and even caves, in which to give birth. As soon as the first pup is born, the island team begin daily monitoring of the edges of the island, looking for new pups and counting the seals on their favourite low tide haul out spots.
We were blessed by a calm and warm September, and our daily rounds to check for seal pups were a great excuse to walk the island looking for migrant birds and spend time watching the pups and their anxious mothers. No matter how much time you spend monitoring seals, the young pups, wrinkled in their white fur coats, big eyes full of innocence, never cease to bring a smile to your face. But sometimes they really don’t cooperate with us!
We give a number to every pup so we can track its progress during the three weeks until it moults and becomes independent from its mother. When you have a small cove with ten pups on, however, it can be really hard to figure out who’s who. Add to this the fact that they can swim and are quite mobile and you can understand that we often “lose” pups and “find” them again on the other side of the island, or even at Martins Haven as happened this September.
So in order to track the pups at the busiest coves, we spray paint them with one or two coloured dots on their rump. We use the same paint that is used on sheep because it’s water proof. To get down to the coves and caves we sometimes have to abseil or pick our way down tricky slopes. It can be quite an expedition, often taking hours, and has to be done at low tide. The pups are quite docile when very young and although they wiggle, gurgle and hiss at you, they seem content. But when they’re a bit older they can move surprisingly fast and are a bit more defensive.
The pupping season is nearly over. The cow seals have done well, and the survival rate of pups has been good. We’ve not had as many big storms this autumn as last year, so we hope our pups will be hanging around when we return to the island in the spring. Meanwhile many of the cows will already be pregnant, as the male bulls mate with them once the pup is close to weaning.
There are several excellent locations on the island from which to watch our seal families and spot the pups. Next September if you book one night in our hostel you get a second half price so why not come and enjoy these fantastic animals with us.