First seal pups on Farne Islands mark start of new season

The first seal pups of the year have been born on the Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast, marking the start of this year’s annual seal count by resident rangers.

Every year, more than 1,500 pups are born on the islands, which is the largest Atlantic grey seal colony in England.

The first seal pup of 2014 born on the Farne Islands. Picture by Paul Kingston / North News and Pictures.

The first seal pup of 2014 born on the Farne Islands. Picture by Paul Kingston / North News and Pictures.

Rangers from conservation charity the National Trust spend three months each autumn monitoring the success rate of the breeding seals.

Last year, a total of 1,575 pups were born, taking the overall Farnes population to an estimated 5,000.

David Steel, lead ranger for the Farne Islands, said: “A typical day for me and the team in autumn includes landing on the seal colonies to monitor the birth of pups. Once born, we spray them with a harmless dye. This can be quite tricky as the mother seals are protective and can be aggressive if we get too close. We use a different colour dye each week which enables us to keep a close count.

“Every year, we also satellite tag one or two adult seals to find out more about their movements at sea. It’s using this technology that we found one seal from the Farne Islands had travelled as far as the coast of the Netherlands last year.”

As this year’s seal-breeding season gets under way, the National Trust is offering visitors to the islands a unique opportunity to get up close to these fascinating mammals.

From today until Friday, October 31, tours will take place daily, with boats leaving from Seahouses Harbour. You’ll be joined by a National Trust ranger for a full guided tour of Staple Island where you will find out about their experiences working with seals.

David said: “There isn’t anywhere else in England where visitors can get as close as this to Atlantic grey seals, particularly during the pupping season. This is a really special time at the Farnes and one which not many people get to see, so these tours really do offer a unique experience.”

National Trust rangers are committed to ensuring that the tours cause no undue disturbance to the seals and that visitors are within a safe viewing distance from the breeding mammals. The tours are all weather permitting and National Trust is advising that people should wear sturdy footwear and warm clothing, including waterproofs.

The breeding season for seals on the Farnes can sometimes start as early as September, with the majority of pups being born in October and November. Although the pups can swim at an early age they don’t normally leave the breeding colony until they have been weaned and moulted their white coats.

Tours cost £10 for adults and £5 for children, including National Trust members. For more information visit http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/northeast.

There will be an additional charge for boat trips that go to or sail around the islands, payable direct to the boat companies. To book your boat trip, call Billy Shiel’s boat trips on 01665 720316 or evening 01665 720308; Serenity boat company on 01665 721667 or evening 01665 720760; or Golden Gate on 07904800590, 07904749128 or evening 01665 721819.