Record number of gray seals spotted on Cumbria beach

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A total of 518 gray seals have been counted at a Cumbria nature reserve, a five-fold increase in nine years, conservationists have said (Photo: Getty)

A record number of seals have been counted by drones in a UK nature reserve.

Some 518 gray seals were recorded by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust at South Walney Nature Reserve in Barrow between September 2020 and March this year.

This means that the colony’s population has increased by 7.2% since 2019, when there were 483 seals, and by 43.9% since 2018, when there were only 360.

Dr Emily Baxter, Marine Conservation Officer, said: “This is very exciting news and it is a fivefold increase in the gray seal population in the nine years that I have been with the Confidence.”

Natural England has granted special permission for the use of drones, which must fly particularly high to avoid disturbing seals and other wildlife.

But the volunteers also continued to count the mammals manually using binoculars and crawling along the pebble beaches.

“Both methods are important, but the drone gives us more precise numbers,” added Dr Baxter.


Gray seal breeding season at Blakeney Point in Norfolk on Monday 23 November 2020.
Gray seal with her cub during the breeding season at Blakeney Point in Norfolk (Photo: Getty Images)

The devices monitored the seals every two weeks, helping to record their behavior and the effect of human activity.

While seal beaches are off-limits to the public, there have been several incidents of people doing water sports and disembarking kayaks in protected areas during the coronavirus lockdown, which has spooked some seals in the water.

“When seals are disturbed, they flee into the sea, using up large reserves of energy,” said Dr Baxter.

The gray seal is the larger of the two seal species found in the UK, along with the harbor seal, and can weigh up to 300 pounds and stand 2.6m in length.


A colony of gray seals pictured in Norfolk
A colony of gray seals captured on Norfolk beaches (Photo: Getty Images)

They spend most of their time foraging at sea, but “crawl” to secluded beaches or rocks during the winter.

Fluffy white seal pups are born in the fall and stay ashore until they shed their coats and tripled in size.

Those who want to get up close and personal with cute puppies or adult seals can view them through the ‘seal camera’ on the Cumbria Wildlife Trust website.

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