The books I have read about seals always state that Common Seals are good parents; staying with their young for some time as they learn about the world around them with weaning taking longer than their Grey cousins. It is Grey Seals that are cast as the poorer parents. Grey seal mothers are documented to abandon their pups at just short of three weeks when their offspring are carrying enough fat to get them through the next three weeks as they teach themselves to swim, catch fish and feed. The mothers get lured into mating with the beach masters before dispersing. This is how it’s told in such excellent books as ‘Seals’ by Sheila Anderson; my seal bible. You certainly get the impression therefore that Grey Seal pups change to a silver grey coat when the free meals stop and every pup becomes a beach orphan fending for itself. I have spent a lot of time with seals over the past ten years, Grey Seals in particular, and indeed this is as I’ve seen it myself … up until one weekend before Christmas.
I always use Jim Temple to travel out to the Blakeney point rookery. Temples in Morston are in my opinion the best of the operators on offer and Jim and his crew always do their best to give people a good and informed visit and I’ve always seen them treat their guests with care, patience and politeness.
We were out with Temples, during the weekend in question, in the still waters of Blakeney Harbour and the dunes, beaches and sea were full of seals, and I mean full.
I caught sight, among the many, of a pup with mother in the water. The pup was obviously a freshman in the sea. It behaved awkwardly moving with little grace but in an excited manner; it had found its element and was learning the ropes not on its own but under the watchful eye of its mother. She would keep herself between her pup and us at all times and pushed her offspring from underneath as it occasionally succumbed to the waves. I was left with no doubt she was teaching her young to swim. This is totally at odds with what I’ve understood and observed previously.
Every day is a school day!