Monthly Archives: June 2018

And so it begins… pups make an appearance in Orkney too.

The photoID season in Orkney started a couple of weeks ago, just before the start of June. Having been away from Orkney since last August, it was nice to recognize the seals and start seeing heavily pregnant females at the monitored haulout sites.

Female Or038 from the Orkney catalogue showing a large pregnant belly

Despite seeing familiar faces, the numbers of seals at the different haulout sites around Burray and Widewall Bay were lower to start with compared to last year. After a few days of low counts I discovered a bunch of seals resting at some more distant skerries. They were too far for me to take good photo-ID data but it was good to see that the numbers were not that low after all!

A bit too far for photoID unfortunately!

The sun has been mostly shining in Orkney, which sometimes is not ideal when taking photographs of sleeping hazy seals, as Izzy has found out in Kintyre too. Before the pups arrive, the dynamics at the haulout sites can be fairly calm, as once all seals have found the perfect spot to rest, it’s snooze time.The key is to have patience and wait for the seals to change position as the tide advances or wait for them to lift their heads. Even though we could potentially use any part of their pelage for identification, we focus on the face, from both sides and from the front, as that is the easiest part to photograph consistently for all seals.

Sunny days call for long sleeps at the haulout site, perfect for these pregnant females!

The start of this week brought a nice surprise with the first pup of this season in Orkney! The pup belongs to a female from the catalogue, Or038, which we first photographed in 2016. The mum-pup pair were seen at the haulout for a bit while the pup suckled and then went into the water where they were seen interacting very close by, with frequent nose-to-nose contact, and the pup managed to ride on mum’s back when heading away.

Or038 with her pup in the water

Nose-to-nose contact before some suckling time

The following day we managed to spot the same mum-pup pair at a nearby haulout site. Because pups are born with their adult coat, each pup already has a unique pelage pattern, which allows us to identify each pup and follow them through the season. I suspect the number of little ones will start to increase from now on, given the sightings of heavily pregnant females at the haulout sites. We will be making notes and taking photographs of all mum-pup pairs through the season, which will help us determine the birth rates at each of the study sites.

Written by Mònica

First pup in Kintyre!

The first week of photo ID fieldwork for the Harbour Seal Decline Project has got off to a flying start here in Kintyre. Despite the persistently sunny days making it hard to get good photographs through the haze and glare, we have seen our first pup of the season!

The first mother and pup pair for Kintyre 2018

This is about a week earlier than last year, and the pup looks quite premature as it still has some of its white, lanugo coat which is normally moulted off in the womb. Nevertheless, the pup seemed full of life, swimming with its mum in the shallows.


The mother and pup pair were spotted at Muller Island, where the northern site has had an average of 15 adults hauled out at low tide every day this week. The southern site at Muller Island has seen similar numbers, gradually increasing as the week progressed.

Another site we are monitoring this season, also overlooking Ardnacross Bay, is Yellow Rock. The seals here at high tide haul-out within 50m of the beach which makes our job infinitely easier. The bay has been so calm and still this last week that we can almost do photo ID from the reflections in the water!

Reflection of a male harbour seal in the water at Yellow Rock

Along with the seals, we have had some great bird sightings, including a Great Northern Diver and a group of Red Breasted Mergansers. There have also been rumours of a pod of bottlenose dolphins traveling up the east coast of Kintyre so we’ll be keeping a look out for those!

A Great Northern Diver, spotted at Seal Rock

As much as it pains me to say it, we will be hoping for some less sunny days over the next few weeks to ensure we get the data we need for the project. If this is the case, in the next blog post you’ll no doubt hear me complaining about the midges!

The sun has been causing us difficulties with haze and glare

Written by Izzy