Monday, January 03, 2011

the best start to the year

Current work: Capri medical revisions
Listening to: Corelli
Reading: Lucy Dillon, Walking Back to Happiness (enjoying, even though one of the themes is touching a bit of a nerve)

Last year didn’t end well – apart from losing Dad, Christmas was made very difficult by another family crisis. So, on New Year’s Day, I suggested we went to the beach.

Apart from the fact that the North Norfolk coast is the best place in the world in winter for blowing the cobwebs away, there was something special I wanted to see. Something really life-affirming.

At Horsey Gap, there’s a colony of grey seals, and at this time of year the pups are born. This year, 370 pups were born to the colony during December – it’s particularly heartening that the numbers are increasing, because four years ago half the colony was wiped out by a virus.

The beach is fenced off at this time of year, because if humans get too close it can cause the mums to abandon their pups. So we had a gorgeous walk on the dunes on a mild and calm day, and we got to see lots of seals – some were swimming, some were lazing around on the beach, and some were having a nap on the dunes themselves. (This bull was just enjoying the the sound of the waves hitting the rocks.)

This was my daughter's favourite - his expression reminded her of our spaniel, plus he flopped his way all the way up the beach and waved a flipper at her.

This pair touched me most.

I couldn’t get over the way the mum cuddled her pup the same way that a human mother would cuddle her child – including soothing strokes with her flipper, the way that a human mum would stroke a child’s hair. And she made sure she was between her pup and the bull, to protect the baby.

The seal warden told us that seals are weaned at the age of three weeks – and, during those three weeks, the mum concentrates entirely on her pup and doesn’t eat at all (and uses 30,000 calories a day in feeding her baby). She protects the pup from the bulls (who can be very mean to the pups – especially as the mum is ready to mate again, two weeks after the birth).The pups learn to swim at the age of around six weeks, and then they’re pretty much on their own; though their mums have taught them everything they need to know by this point. When they lose their white coat, it’s pretty itchy, so they come onto the dunes and roll around in the marram grass.

This seal was fast asleep and was oblivious to the humans who couldn’t resist taking a photograph of their own offspring next to the baby. (And yes, of course we did...)


Shirley Wells said...

Thanks so much for sharing those wonderful pictures. If there's one thing I miss about living in Orkney, it's the sea and the seals. I used to love seeing the adorable pups. As you say, really life-affirming!

Sorry to hear about the family crisis. Hope it's sorted and that 2011 is a much, much better year for you!

susanwilson44 said...

Love your pictures Kate and wishing you and yours and a happy and healthy 2011 xx

Caroline said...

Gorgeous photographs Kate. I'm amazed you managed to get so close. How exciting. Caroline x

Jan Jones said...

Lovely photos, Kate.

Onwards and upwards.

x x

Elissa Graham said...

Kate you had a dreadful year last year but I really admire your spirit regarding your intentions for having a great 2011 and numbers 1 & 2 on your resolution list are very sage (sorry but I'm allergic to exercise). I love how you combated a unhappy event with something life-affirming. I remember seeing a seal in Western Australia once when I was there on holiday just around the corner from where we staying and it was such a surprise I felt like I'd seen an alien - so not prepared for it but it gave me a buzz that lasted all day!

I'm wishing you everything fabulous for 2011 - you certainly deserve it.

Lacey Devlin said...

Gorgeous photos. What an incredible beach! I'm glad you all had such a lovely New Year x