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Wildlife in Winter: Photographing Seal Pups for a Painting
The mass gatherings are known as rookeries and are made up of both local seals and others that have travelled from further afield. I’m not the only one that goes to see them. The new seal pups attract hundreds of visitors every day. The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust encourages visitors not to venture onto the beach and disturb the colony. They have erected a fence to keep the seals safe.
Whether as a result of this buzz of human activity or as a precaution, some female seals are too shy to come right up to the beach and instead give birth on a sand bank about a mile from the shoreline. Tragically, just before I was due to head there, I heard that there had been a freak high tide, two and a half metres higher than usual, and the pups on this sandbank had been washed away. But there were still plenty of pups on the beach when I got there. At first glance the seals don’t seem to be doing much. They look like large beached sausages on the sand. But I stopped and waited and sure enough I was rewarded with some wonderful action. I watched as a cub rolled playfully beside its mother. Its large dark glossy eyes and luxurious white coat were so appealing. It called out with a mournful sigh.
These ones were becoming adventurous. I watched one blowing bubbles and splashing in pools on the shoreline. I photographed another which I could have sworn was laughing. Its dog-like mouth opened wide in an engaging smile. Another rolled over and waved a shiny flipper at me. At last I was getting what I needed to make my painting come alive.
It was a good thing I went when I did because when these pups are five weeks old hunger and instinct forces them out to sea where they begin hunting for themselves. But it is still worth visiting Donna Nook since this is also the time when the adults mate. It hardly seems fair on the female, who, after three weeks of feeding her pup and not feeding at all herself, has often lost a considerable amount of weight. Nevertheless she becomes receptive to mating and the beach quickly turns from caring nursery to brutal mating platform.