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GREY SEALS
IN CUMBRIA

Around 40% of the world population of Grey Seals and 95% of the EC population live around the coasts of Britain.

Many colonies of Grey Seal are found off both the east and the west coast of Britain, but since the early 1990's Grey Seals have been seen off Walney island (they have been present off the Isle of Man for many years previous to that). Increasing numbers now haul out on the spit at South Walney, with between 20 and 50 usually present and occasionally over 100, and similar numbers may be present in summer at a low water haul out on a Solway sandbank. Visitors to the CWT Reserve on South Walney usually have a good chance of seeing them from the Groyne Hide.

There are regular sightings on the coast all year round from the Solway right round to Morecambe Bay, even as far in as Arnside. It is known that Grey Seals are long distance swimmers and that there is movement between Cumbria, the Isle of Man, Galloway or even Ireland. The marine group of Cumbria Wildlife Trust is carrying out extensive survey work and recording facial markings, which are then exchanged with other groups to see whether recognition is possible.

It is not known at present whether they produce pups in the area or exactly how the population varies during the year. In winter numbers tend to be lower than in the summer, presumably because the females and a number of mature males have travelled to pupping/breeding sites, but 25-35 is not uncommon off Walney.

The U.K.'s largest native mammal, the Grey or Atlantic Seal, may be up to 3 metres long and weigh 300kg. They are recognised by their elongated head and Roman nose (the Common Seal, which is actually less common, is smaller and has a snub nose). Grey Seal coats are spotted and vary in colour from dark grey, through silver, to brown; the pattern of blotches around the head and neck is unique to each individual and this can be used in identification.

Over the years, Grey Seals have experienced an on-off relationship with conservation. When numbers fell to less than 500 around the UK in the early part of the 20th century, the first mammal protection conservation legislation in the UK was passed. This was revoked during the 1970's and 1980's as fish stocks were supposedly being threatened by large numbers of Grey Seals. New bans on hunting came into force a few years after this, as a result of public pressure.

New-born Grey Seals are produced during September and October and have an attractive white fur but this is shed after about 3 weeks. They are so approachable that killing them is easy - they were invariably clubbed to death to preserve their fur intact.
There are very occasional sightings of Common Seal around the west Cumbrian coast and in recent years several pups have been born at midsummer on the Duddon Estuary. They are also recorded sometimes in Morecambe Bay in the Ulverston Channel and off Humphrey Head.