Farne Islands seals survive incredible journey

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THREE little seals went swimming one day ... and ended up on the opposite side of the North Sea, 350 miles away from their Northumberland home.

The first of the young grey seal pups was found on December 13 on a beach in Holland and was less than three weeks old when it made the dangerous journey. After being found by a member of the public it was taken to a Dutch seal rescue centre.

It was followed by the arrival of two more pups which turned up on January 6 and 7, which were taken to the same sanctuary.

All of the seal pups are reported to be recovering well and will be released back into the wild once they have put on enough weight.

But they could potentially return home to the Farne Islands or another UK colony.

David Steel, National Trust Head Warden for the Farne Islands, said: “This is a remarkable tale of determination and survival in the turbulent waters of the North Sea. For three young grey seal pups to make it through such an ordeal is amazing.”

Late November and early December saw easterly winds and stormy seas around the Farne Islands which would have played a part in sweeping the seal pups far out into the sea.

More than 1,300 pups are born each year on the Farne Islands. Although grey seal pups can swim at an early age they don’t normally leave the breeding colony until they have weaned and moulted their white coats.

The Farne Islands is the only place in the UK to use coloured dye to tag the newly born seals – most pup census work at other sites is carried out by aerial surveys.

The colours are rotated during every colony count; two of the seals had blue dye putting their birth around November 30, and the third pup had yellow dye, putting its birth date at around mid-November.

David added: “The two pups with the blue dye would have still been dependent on their parents and the third pup would have only just gained its independence when they began their mammoth journey. Young pups have been discovered along the Northumberland coastline but this a real rarity.”

Tagging and survey work on grey seals has been taking place on the Farne Islands since the early 1950s – the longest running study of grey seals in the world – and the place where seal tagging was pioneered.

The survival rate of grey seals in the stormy sea around the Islands is low, with more than 45 per cent of pups not surviving the winter months.

Previous records suggest that older seals from the Islands have made it as far as Norway and the Faroe Islands.

Dr Bernie McConnell, from the Sea Mammal Research Centre at the University of St Andrews, said: “From our own survey work it appears that grey seal pups spend a significant part of their first year exploring – often to places hundreds of miles away.”