Pupping season has officially started in our Orkney and Isle of Skye study sites! Both Andy and myself saw the first pups during the weekend. Craig is patiently waiting to see the first one while monitoring the pregnant females at selected haulout sites along the Kintyre coast.
Pups have a lanugo coat (white fur) while inside mum which they will shed before birth, so that when they are born pups already have their dark spotted adult coat. The pup seen in Loch Dunvegan seems to have a bit of white fur remaining, which can happen. Hopefully it’s only that and not a sign of having been born a bit too early. The pup, which had been seen by the boatmen at Dunvegan Castle for a couple of days before Andy saw it, cannot be more than a few days old, as the umbilical cord is still visible.
In Orkney, the first female seen with a pup was actually one of the seals we tagged last April. She is female Or021 in our catalogue and she was already a recapture from 2016. Last year she was not seen with an obvious pregnancy or with a pup, but this year the story is obviously different.
I photographed Or021 last Wednesday, without a pup yet but with a big belly instead, and then saw her with her new pup on Friday and missing the extra belly. Checking on the seals on an almost daily basis allows us to estimate birth dates with a smaller error than if we only went once a week for example. In this case, we know the pup was born sometime around Thursday 8th June (plus minus one day). On Sunday I went out and saw her again at the same haulout with her pup, who was suckling while she was taking a rest.
The second pup showed up during the weekend, as I checked the main pupping site in Burray. I could not see the pup to start with, just an adult seal checking on what looked like a wet dark rock hiding among the seaweed. That was no rock but a newborn pup! I must have just missed the birth, as the placenta could still be seen next to mum. Mum and pup made a lot of nose to nose contact while I was there. This female, which is Or148 in our catalogue, is a rather young looking female, based on her size compared to other adults. Last summer we photographed her, but never pregnant or with a pup, so this could well be her first pup. Female harbour seals reach sexual maturity around age 4, meaning they can start having pups around age 5. We will keep monitoring this and other females at the haulouts during the pupping season. By the look of it, things are about the get noisy and hectic at the haulouts!
Written by Mònica