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Seal pups at St Abb’s Head National Nature Reserve

A young seal pup lies on the beach looking directly at the camera. It has a white fluffy coat with splodges on its head. It has very large round black eyes.
At this time of year, it’s not unusual to come across a seal pup hauled out on a beach, or even on the coastal path where it is at sea level.

Grey seal pups are left to fend for themselves once weaned at 15–21 days old – their mothers go off to mate and feed (they don't feed whilst suckling and can lose half their body weight). The pups triple in weight from birth to reach 45kg by the time of weaning, and so they have some reserves to keep them going. They are not taught how to find prey, and have to work out how to do this for themselves. They also moult their fluffy white coats after weaning.

As you might imagine, this is pretty exhausting for the pups and they spend a lot of time hauled out on beaches, trying to conserve their energy. Only 50% of pups will survive their first winter – so it’s really important that they’re not put under any additional stress. We have recently seen some seal pups on the beaches at Wellmouth and Burnmouth Harbour. Last weekend, we became aware that some visitors to the reserve were going right up to these pups and taking selfies. This can distress the pups and could result in them leaving those beaches altogether – they’ve not been seen there since Monday.

Seals are protected under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, and it’s against the law to knowingly disturb them. Here is our Seal Code of Conduct for the reserve:

  • Do take time to observe the pups from afar – they are wonderful creatures to watch – but give them a wide berth and keep dogs well away.
  • Do not try to rescue a seal pup unless it is obviously injured or very thin.
  • If a pup is obviously injured or very thin (bones visible under the skin), please do not approach it but ring the SSPCA on 03000 999 999.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible for us to man the reserve at all times. We have put up information signs, but sadly these may be ignored. Please help us if you can – if you see people disturbing seals (either on the reserve or elsewhere), you could explain to them what effect their behaviour might have. You could also point them in the direction of Petticowick beach (NT907691), where there’s plenty of seal activity to watch from a safe distance.

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