Sutton Bridge

One Born Every Minute 26/11/2019

The Bird Group's Visit to the Amazing Seal Sanctuary at Donna Nook

Donna Nook is a coastal nature reserve north east of Louth, best known as a seal watching paradise. On a clear day, we could probably have seen Spurn Point on the far side of the Humber Estuary, but none of us was looking into the distance. We had come to see the seals, and the seals were right here in front of us.

We chose the date of our visit carefully, for the window is small. On the 25th October, there were just 2 bulls and 8 cows, but no pups had been born. On the day of the Bird Group visit, just one month later, wardens counted 489 bulls, 1629 cows, and 1554 pups. By Christmas, most will be gone. We timed it right.

A low wire fence separated us from the mudflats where the thousands of grey seals were reclining, some so close we could’ve reached out and touched them, but nobody did. There were giant bulls, smaller cows, and pups of all sizes, from fat and fluffy older ones to damp and bewildered newborns.

We were in agony watching one of these tiny ones, just 10 minutes old and with umbilical stump still visible, trying to find its way back to mum. It kept crawling the wrong way and then, shockingly, fell out of sight down a steep gully. A small crowd had gathered to watch this drama of nature, and a collective gasp went up, as we all feared the pup might be lost. Then a relieved cheer as its little face appeared at the top of the bank. Soon, it was heading in the right direction, and mum rolled obligingly to allow pup to suckle. Such a relief!

We saw sad evidence that not all pups make it. ‘Our’ little one was just one fragment of fur with big, liquid eyes, but it mattered so much to us that it had a fighting chance. At last we felt we could leave the mum and pup to their bonding, and we headed back to the car park for the journey home.

For most of us, this was our first visit to Donna Nook, and what an experience we had. To be right there, so close to this spectacle of nature, was a real privilege, and the drive home was a very happy one.

(Images: Ray Howard, Jane McQuade, Lesley Bassett)

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