January 29th, 2018
Cardigan Bay is renowned for it’s array of wildlife and today we’re exploring the resident grey seal population……
The whole sweep of Cardigan Bay (the western coast of Wales from the tip of the Llŷn Peninsula in the north to St David’s Head in the south) provides a wonderful habitat for the Atlantic Grey Seals, and they’re a common sight along the coast in the autumn months. The Atlantic Greys are one of the most common species of seal, and one of the largest. The male bulls can reach over 250kg in weight!
Steve Hartley founded the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre in New Quay, Mid Wales in 1996, and he’s been working with the marine life of Cardigan Bay for over 35 years, so he knows a thing or two about the Bay’s Atlantic Grey Seal population!
“Cardigan Bay is an ideal habitat for Atlantic Greys”, explains Steve, “because it is unspoilt, there is plenty of food and (other than humans) there are no predators.”
As part of his work with the Marine Wildlife Centre, Steve also runs regular boat trips from New Quay harbour, which he uses to conduct research and collect data into the marine life of the bay.
“It’s difficult to say exactly how many seals and pups there are in Cardigan Bay because there haven’t been any recent surveys or studies”, Steve tells us. “Last year we began the process of carrying out a photo ID study of all the seals – each animal has its own unique pattern on its head and shoulders that so they can be relatively easily identified. This research will help us discover the numbers and movements of the seal population here”.
The pupping season is a wonderful time to witness the seals of Cardigan Bay, and boat trip operators often see the same mothers and pups from day to day.
“It’s very exciting to watch the seals and their pups”, says Steve. “The milk from mother seals is one of the richest milk in the animal kingdom. The pups are fed for about 21 days and during this time the pups will put on up to 2kg a day. When you see these animals on a daily basis you notice the mother shrinking and the pup gaining more and more weight, like a little seal barrel!”
The best way to witness the seals and their pups is either by embarking on an organised boat trip from a reputable company in Cardigan Bay, or to view the seals from above by taking a walk along the coast path.
“My advice would be to call the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre and we’ll be able to tell you the best places to go and observe them discreetly”, says Steve. And he’s also keen to point out that birthing seals and their pups should never be approached.
“It’s really important that people don’t disturb the seals or their pups and approach them on the beach – the worst case scenario is that the mothers can abandon the pups if they are disturbed” says Steve.