Huge crowds flock to Donna Nook to meet newborn seals

Seal pup season is well under way at the Donna Nook nature reserve in North Somercotes, with almost 2,000 newborn pups present on site.

Seal pups at Donna Nook. All photographs taken by David Dawson.

The stretch of Lincolnshire coastline is famous for its colony of grey seals, and the annual breeding season every winter always draws in thousands of tourists to observe the spectacle.

The first seal pup born at Donna Nook this year appeared in late October, and within just a couple of weeks there were over 400 pups there - alongside 284 bulls and 652 cows. By the end of November, this number had already skyrocketed to more than 1,800 pups.

The average figure for the overall number of pups born per season has been around 2,000 in recent years.

The grey seal - or ‘hook-nosed sea pig’, going by their rather unflattering scientific name - is the larger of the two seal species found in the UK.

Grey seals can be identified by their long, horse-like face compared to the shorter, rounder face of the common seal.

During the winter, these animals that usually spend much of their time hunting at sea, come to shore for long periods of time to breed and raise their young.

Donna Nook is the second largest breeding colony in England, and it provides an ideal habitat for mothers to raise their young pups, with the sand dunes providing shelter against the harsh winter conditions.

Despite severe persecution in the 18th century where populations were estimated to have dropped to as low as 500 individuals, protective legislation of the species has led to their recovery.

The UK is now home to an estimated 120,000 grey seals, representing 40 per cent of the world’s total population.

Although colony activity peaks in mid-December, the best time for viewing pups at the reserve is late November.

The seal pups will spend around a month on the beach relying solely on their mother’s milk, which is high in fat and allows them to put on around 2kg in weight a day. By January, the seal pups will lose their characteristic white fur and head out to sea to fend for themselves.

The fenced viewing area of the reserve, which allows the rare opportunity to get up close to these large and usually elusive mammals, will be open until late December.

Entry to the reserve is free, although there are parking fees of £4 during the week and £5 at the weekend.

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