Throughout the summer months, visiting seals arrive to take advantage of fish stocks in the sea around the island which swells the population to over 150 individuals. These are among the largest, rarest seals in the world with the UK grey seal population accounting for half of the world population.
Seals are gregarious animals which live and feed in groups. On Lundy they often haul out in large numbers onto secluded beaches or in sea caves at the north end of the island. Their dappled coats camouflage them effectively against their rocky environment making them easily overlooked from the island coast path.
Male and female Grey seals can be distinguished by their size and head shape. Bull seals (male) are large bulky animals which can grow up to three metres in length and weigh 250 kg. They have a ‘Roman’ nose, and heavy thickset shoulders wrinkled in appearance and a very dark, finely mottled coat. In contrast cow seals (females) are smaller with a slender head and shoulders. Their coats are typically mid-grey, paler on the underside, with large dark markings. Females are also generally longer lived than the males, reaching 35 years of age and males 20 -25 years old.
Seal pups are born onto secluded beaches and in sea caves around the island in the autumn between September and December. The white coated pups feed on the mother’s rich fatty milk, gaining 2 kg a day. After three weeks and treble their initial weight, the pups moult and are then abandoned to fend for themselves.
Seal watching is a rewarding pastime and it is even possible to identify individual seals by their own unique markings. There is some considerable variation in colour however with variations of dark brown, grey, fawn-brown or pale silvery grey. Seal surveys currently carried out by the island wardens are helping to build a photographic account of Lundy’s population and further our understanding of the island colony.