The Grey Seal – Halichoerus grypus qualifies as the UKs largest land mammal as it regularly hauls itself out into isolated coves around the Cornish coast.
One such site is Mutton Cove, part of the Site of Special Scientific Interest & Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty at Godrevy, perched at the northern end of Hayle’s “3 miles of golden sands”. Here at Mutton Cove it is possible to observe these beautiful animals from the cliff top without disturbing them if you respect their need for a calm environment and follow a few simple rules.
Parking in the National Trust car park at Godrevy Point, (there is a charge during the summer months for non members), follow the footpath that heads north, (seemingly away from the coast), and after 200 metres of easy walking up a slight incline you will arrive at the wooden barrier at the top of the cliff overlooking Mutton Cove. On a good day there may be 30 or more Grey Seals ashore.
However please be aware that even though you are at the top of the cliff when viewing the seals on the shingle beach below it is very important that you keep noise to a minimum, including voices, and barking dogs. Physically keeping a low profile as you watch is also extremely important. While enjoying the privileged views of these wild creatures it vital that you respect their need for a calm environment and encourage others to do so, (see Sue Sayers comment at the end of this page).
One beautiful sunny morning at the end of January, I went down onto the beach at Godrevy Cove looking for photographic inspiration. As I was relishing the quiet start to the day much to my amazement this year old female (?) Grey Seal hauled itself out on to the sand right in front of me! The seal allowed me to approach to within 10ft and just carried on yawning, scratching & curling up in the sunshine, dozing for most of the time. Fortunately most people failed to notice her, their attention drawn to me instead as I kneeled motionless, pointing a long lens in the seal's direction. A boisterous dog bounded over to the seal before instinctively backing off, perhaps he got a glimpse of the formidable set of teeth that the Grey Seal was sporting! The seal seemed totally unperturbed by the encounter and the admiring glances it drew from the people that had started to take notice as it continued to contentedly stretch and yawn in the gentle warmth of the winter sunshine
Grey Seals may live for 30 to 40 years or more and adults can weigh anything from 150kg for a female and up to as much as 300kg for a male
The Grey Seal can be readily separated from the Common Seal - Phoca vitulina (which is far from common around Cornish waters), by the profile of the head. The Grey Seal has a relatively flat or roughly straight line profile from the top of the head to the nose whereas the Common Seal has a slightly concave profile between the top of the head & the nose. The nostrils of the Grey remain separated at the base, whereas those of the Common Seal appear almost joined at the base.
The pups of the Grey Seal are born with white fur while those of the Common Seal are born with the same mottled grey & brown/black colouring as the adults have.
The pups are born on land during the late summer/early autumn in isolated caves or beaches above the high water mark.
Of course it is not uncommon to see seals all around the Cornish coast. Just across the bay from Godrevy this adult Grey Seal was spotted on a Cornwall Wildlife Trust Photography Group field meeting at St.Ives, playfully dispatching a sizable Sea Bass close inshore, twisting & turning and bobbing up & down as he did so.
Cornwall Seal Group is one of the specialist interest groups under the umbrella of the Cornwall Wildlife Trust that promotes the conservation, welfare & study of seals via a dedicated network of local volunteers. It aims to collect observations of seals & their behaviour, including creating a photo id catalogue of individual seals, to raise awareness of seal issues with relevant UK conservation organizations & political authorities.
Further information and details of how you could become involved can be found at the group’s website: www.cornwallsealgroup.co.uk