Grey Seals at Horsey Gap, Norfolk, UK
Updated: Jan 10
Name: Horsey Gap
Opening times: 24/7
Entry fee: Free
Parking available: Yes
Parking fee: £3 up to 2 hours, £4 up to 3 hours £5 over 4 hours (as of 27/12/19)
Address: Horsey, NR29 4EJ
For many years now I have intended to go and photograph the grey seals that come ashore in the late Autumn/early Winter months to give birth to their pups.
One thing or another has always meant that I have missed my window of opportunity of catching these docile creatures in their natural habitat.
So this year I made sure that it happened!
Having driven 2 and a bit hours, and having to fight road rage on a few occasions (I'm a very chilled person until you put stupid people on the motorway in front of me!) I was relieved with the sat nav told me I was approaching my destination.
There is a car park nearby that is accessible via a rather bumpy road (I don't recommend bringing any low to the ground cars here!). The car park is a pay and display one so be sure to bring some change! Prices range from £2 - £5 (as of 27/12/19)
There is a mobile cafe within the car park that sells hot & cold drinks as well as food and snacks should you require it. I took packed meals with me!
To get a glimpse of the seals you follow the roped-off path which leads you to the top of the dunes and then along the coastline for a little way.
During the birthing and mating season, beginning of December through the end of January, the beach here is not accessible to the public and is patrolled by volunteers from the charity Friends of Horsey Seals.
The purpose of the wardens and the roped off areas is to protect both the seals and visitors.
Whilst the seals are docile, mothers are extremely protective of their pups and can inflict damage on people if they get too close. I witnessed this first hand as I took pictures of a pup on the beach from the barrier (at least 30 metres away) and the mother very quickly positioned herself between me and the pup. Despite me being a fair distance away and posing no threat to her or her pup. Please do NOT chance it!
DO NOT TOUCH THE PUPS!
A grey seal pup is fed by its mother for ONLY 3 weeks. Once weaned the pup stays on the beach for another 3 weeks during which time it malts its white fur. At 6 weeks old the pup heads off to sea for the first time to learn how to hunt/fish and fend for itself.
Touching a pup during its weaning period (first 3 weeks) can lead to scent contamination and the mother will abandon the pup! The pup WILL NOT survive if it cannot feed for those initial 3 weeks by its mother!
So please, as tempting as it may be to get up close to a pup, or heaven forbid, touch one for that photograph for social media, ask yourself, "Is this picture really worth this animals life?".
There have been reports both here at Horsey, and at Blakeney Bay of people actually picking pups up to pose for pictures. Just don't!
It was great to stand and observe these creatures in their natural environment rather than through glass at a Zoo or Sea Life centre. Older pups having a play. Bigger bulls having the occasional disagreement. Mothers protecting their pups. But on the most part, the seals tended to be reserving energy supplies.
A pups life
Pups weigh approximately 15kg at birth
Born with a white fluffy coat
A mother can recognise her pup from its smell and call (therefore, DO NOT TOUCH!)
Pups suckle for 18 - 21 days ONLY (weaning period)! This period is crucial to the pups' survival! Touching a pup in this time may mean the mother abandons the pup.
Pups feed 5 - 6 times per day in this period
Pups gain 2kg per day!
The milk is 60% fat and has the consistency of condensed milk (which I love just by the way!)
The mother will loose up to a quarter of her body weight during the weaning period.
After the weaning period, the mother will mate with one or more bulls before leaving the pup to fend for itself.
Pups will stay at the beach for a further 3 - 4 weeks.
During this time the pup lives primarily off fat reserves, hence they tend not to be too active.
They will also malt fully, losing their fluffy white coat to be replaced with a dense, waterproof grey one.
At 6 - 7 weeks old, the seal will head out to sea to learn how to feed itself.
The moral of the story?
Disturbing a pup during this 6 - 7 week period from birth can have devastating consequences to the pups survival chances.
Regularly disturbing a pup whilst it is feeding can result in the pup not gaining sufficient weight and blubber to survive the 3 - 4 weeks it is left on its own.
Disturbing the pup regularly during the 3 - 7 week period can mean that it depletes its blubber reserves too quickly resulting in a pup that has not got the energy to head out to sea to feed itself.
Please observe the seals from designated areas at Horsey Gap. When I was there, there was a pup who had gotten onto the path. Whilst I did take pictures of it, I always remained a safe distance from the pup. I also noticed that it was malting which meant that scent contamination wasn't such a concern (as mother had already abandoned him/her). I did consider trying to move him off the path however opted to not risk causing stress in the pup. A warden arrived not too long later and using practised methods, got the pup off the pathway.
It was an absolute privilege seeing these animals up close and personal. Yes, it's frustrating that due to actions of others, the beach has to be roped off to visitors, however, I fully understand and support it.
If like me, you love wildlife and animals, then I highly recommend that you pay a visit to Horsey Gap. From other reports and reviews I've seen given, it seems that it can get rather busy there especially during the festive holidays (late December - early January) so my recommendation, if you just want to sit/stand and enjoy what's on display, is to visit when the schools are in session (early December or after New Years)
If your intention is to photograph the seals remember that you will not be up close and personal with them so be sure to pack a suitable zoom lens. You will certainly want at least 200mm+, of course, unlike other things in life, the longer the better!
All images shown in this blog post will be available on my stock photography site. I will be donating 20% of all proceeds from sales of these images to Friends of Horsey Seals charity.
I'm hoping to arrange a visit to the charity themselves to attempt to assist them with their fundraising and campaign photography needs so keep an eye out for that post in the future!
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