Monthly Archives: July 2018

Another field season completed

Last weekend marked the end of another field season for the project. In Orkney, the vibe at the haulout sites changed significantly during the last week. Most of the pups were observed on their own, and thus likely to be fully weaned, and only a few mum-pup pairs were seen interacting. One of the few left was Or026, which was one of the last ones to pup this year around the 28th or 29th of June, as we explained in this other post.

Or026 in the water with her pup in Orkney

The processing of the photographs from this year is still to be completed, with which we will attempt to identify every seal that has been photographed. Then we can figure out which females pupped this year, information that will be used to estimate birth rates in Orkney as well as at the other study sites. Going out to get the pictures keeps us busy enough, but there is still some basic data processing we have to do everyday after coming back from the field. The photographs have to be renamed with information on where the pictures were taken (because we have several sites that we monitor) and the trip number. Then we have to add the metadata associated to each photograph to a table, so that each row shows all the available information to each photograph. If the photograph shows more than one seal we need to state which seal are we talking about. We can then add information, when available, on whether a female was seen with a pup or alone, on whether suckling was observed, or whether we can tell if a seal is a male or a female from photographs of the genital area.

When a photograph shows more than one seal, we indicate which seal we are referring to by counting the number of seal heads in the photograph and adding the head number for the seal of interest counting from left to right in the frame.

The pups that are weaned or almost weaned look quite massive compared to when they were born, and some of them are so similar in size to the seals born last summer that one needs to triple-check to make sure it is a pup and not a yearling.

Or057 with a rather looking big pup!

Even though the identification of the females that have pupped this summer is still to be completed, we have recognized most of the females. Some of them have pupped for a third consecutive year, including Or094 in Burray, nicked-named “coliflower”, who had her pup on June 19th , and Or044, nicked-named “butterfly”, which is regularly seen in Widewall Bay.

Or094 in the catalogue with her pup in 2016, 2017 and 2018

Or044, “Butterfly”, is regularly seen in Widewall Bay, where she has been seen with a pup for the last three summers

While some pups have been seen suckling from their mums right up until almost the end of July, others that were born earlier in the season were already weaned by then. Some pups have to be a bit more pushy to get the female to lay on its side so that they can suckle. They do so my pushing their nose against the side of mum, until she turns around to get her belly exposed, as does mum Or045 in this video:

The pups that either have already been weaned or might just be spending more time on their own at the haulout sites might still try for a cheeky extra meal if that’s on the offer. In the video below, you can see female Or057 at the haulout sites together with her pup and some other pups. One of them, is trying to slowly approach the female from the the water, but it doesn’t seem that this tactic will work with Or057…

During the last few days of monitoring in Orkney we also noticed an increase in the number of seals starting their annual moult or well into it. More on this in the next post!

Weaned pup checking out a rock to haul out

Written by Mònica

Pup, pup and away!

Kintyre has seen a fair few new arrivals since we last wrote! Firstly, there have been (at least!) ten new pups, with mum and pup pairs observed at almost all of field sites here in Kintyre. And secondly, the arrival of myself, Emily, as another short term field assistant. I’ve been working with the permanent field assistant here, Izzy, for the previous few weeks to gain experience in the collection of seal photo-ID data and to become familiar with the field sites. I work on maintaining the Kintyre photo-ID database back at SMRU, so it has been a great eye-opener to get out of the office and see the sites, the seals, and to see ‘behind the scenes’ how the data is collected. On my return to SMRU I will now be processing the 2018 photographs, updating the catalogue and adding in any new (very cute!) additions from 2018.

A young pup photographed at Seal Rock (photo: Emily)

During the previous two weeks I’ve seen pups at 4 of the 5 field sites, with Yellow Rock the only site where pups have not been observed. This is traditionally a male dominated haul out with few females being observed at this site. Conversely, we have seen the highest number of mum pup pairs at the nearby Muller Island site, observing up to four pairs hauled out in close proximity to each other, almost like a nursery! It’s interesting watching the pup behaviour, resting, suckling, and swimming and attempting to keep up with mum.

Now that some of the pups are two to three weeks old it’s noticeable how their confidence is growing and they’re entering the water alone more, with mum leaving them alone for longer periods of time. It is not long before they will be weaned and separate from mum completely!

A mum and pup pair photographed at Southend. Right after this the pup went for a lone swim while Mum watched from on land! (photo: Emily)

Written by Emily

Pups, pups, and more pups!

The pupping season is well under way in Orkney. The first pups we saw this season (just before mid June) are now almost 3 weeks old. We have not seen any more pregnant females in the last couple of days, so it is likely the majority of the pups have been born. The last two females that have given birth are two seals known to the project. One of them is Or026, which was first photographed in 2014 as an adult, as part of a separate project. A scar between the eyes makes her very recognizable, even though she has fairly pale pelage, especially around the head.

Or026 has a scar between the eyes that is easy to spot! We have nicknamed her “pirate”.

Or026 was seen in Widewall Bay (South Ronaldsay) at a small haulout site, but we had expected to see her in Burray, where she was mostly seen for the last couple of summers. The sightings in Widewall Bay made very obvious that she was pregnant, given her size and the extra belly.

Or026 (top seal) resting in Widewall Bay on June 7th

She was seen again on the 28th of June, this time in Burray in a haulout site that is generally used before the pupping season, but it seems that females (and males) move then to a close-by site for pupping. That day she still looked fairly big, although it was hard to tell given her position. Then, she showed up at the main pupping site the following day with a brand new pup!

Or026 and her new pup checking on me while playing among the seaweed

The other female that gave birth recently is Or085, which is known to the project since 2016 and was one of our females carrying a telemetry tag last summer , which we used to investigate the movements and diving behaviour previous and during the pupping season. We know that this female was 5 years old in 2016 when she had a pup, which we think could have been the first time. This year, aged 6, she has had a second pup. She was seen pregnant on June 28th on a very hazy and hot day in Burray, and then showed up at the haulout site where most of the mum-pup pairs are found on July 1st with her pup. You can clearly see the pup still has the umbilical chord attached!

Or085 looking pretty big on June 28th. She kept changing position, which we often observe in largely pregnant females.

Or085 with her pup! Check the umbilical cord.

With so many pups, plus all the mums, other females, juveniles and males, the haulout sites are quite busy. To that you just need to add some grey seals wanting to haulout very close, and there is trouble! On the positive side, that offers good opportunities for photo-identifications, as good pictures of both the right and left side of a seal can quickly be taken.

Written by Mònica