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Friday, November 25, 2011

Flipping 'eck, that's what you call sealing love with a kiss: Touching interaction of mothers and pups at wildlife nursery for 1,000 births

By David Derbyshire

A mother's love: A happy seal reaches out to pull her newborn cub closer. She was pregnant for a year before giving birth

A mother’s loving hug is all a young pup needs. These gloriously endearing images are from one of the greatest spectacles of British wildlife — the seaside nursery on the Lincolnshire coast where 1,000 seal pups are born and weaned each autumn.

At first the seals look like sunbathers, scattered in their thousands across the wide beach, framed by the North Sea and banks of rolling dunes.

Get up close though, and you will see an almost human interaction between mother and pup at Donna Nook, a nature reserve north of Skegness, where hundreds of grey seals descend every year.

Stay close: A safe snuggle under mum's flipper. But soon she will be off to sea and the pup will have to fend for itself

While the beach is remote — it is reached via a single-track lane —– thousands of nature lovers come to watch the pups at close range, separated from them only by a fragile wooden fence.

Rachael Shaw, of Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, said: ‘It’s like everything you can see on the best wildlife TV programmes but it’s right in front of you. Some people see pups being born. You see the males fighting. There are very few opportunities to see large wild animals like this.’

The grey seal colony is the largest and most accessible on mainland England. Numbers have increased in the past few decades, from around 200 seals in the 1960s. Last week wildlife experts recorded 880 pups, 975 females and 331 males on the beach.

The tender touch: A cub keeps its soft white fur for just a few weeks while it is being weaned on the Lincolnshire beach

Motherly love: The grey seal colony is the largest and most accessible on mainland England

Life's a beach: Visitors enjoy the amazing spectacle of seals basking at Donna Nook

Females are pregnant for a year — and are able to mate soon after giving birth — which makes for a busy few weeks. The first adults arrive on the beach at the end of October. The females have just one pup and suckle them for three weeks.

Once the pup — they lose their soft white fur within a couple of weeks — is weaned it is abandoned by the mother who mates again and then heads off to sea. The pup stays on the beach, but is driven by hunger to find fish. Most of the seals have gone by Christmas.

The biggest threat comes from spectators. At weekends the narrow strip of sand where visitors can stand is packed. Last year 60,000 people came.

Miss Shaw says: ‘We would prefer people to come on weekdays if they can, or to wait until mid December when it is quieter. And people should never get too close or touch a pup. A mother may abandon a cub if it smells of humans or dogs.’



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