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


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