March 29th   Leave a comment

It’s a given that I am fairly obsessed with birds, but occasionally other groups of animals get a look in. Today it was my first ever harbour seal I have seen around Crail. Harbour or common seals are the other British seal species, that used to be more common on the East coast thirty years ago. When I first came to St Andrews twenty years ago, there were hundreds that hauled out at the tip of West Sands. There are none there now and there are only a hundred or so in the inner Forth. Their strongholds are the west of Scotland, the Northern Isles and the Wash in England, and their populations are building up after a disease epidemic in 2002. But there still only a few hundred in eastern Scotland. So, a good sighting for Crail. I saw the harbour seal yesterday at Balcomie but wasn’t 100% sure because although they are easy to identify with a good view, on a bad view as yesterday, it could just be a small grey seal. Today it was hauled out on Balcomie Beach at high tide so its small size was obvious (half the size of a grey seal) and as it swam off (it spotted me first) I could see the distinctive dog-like head and V shaped nostrils. In short harbour seals look cute (big eyes and short snouts) while grey seals look a bit less so, cow-like and sad (relatively smaller looking eyes and long faces). I could also see, unfortunately, that it had a huge, old head wound. It looked like a propeller strike. It must have been horrendous, but it was mostly healed. The seal was a vigorous swimmer and the age of the injury must mean that it is now fairly healthy. I hope it is finding Balcomie a good place to recuperate.

Grey seal left (JA) and the Balcomie harbour seal right to show how to split them. Labrador versus King Charles’ spaniel.
The harbour seal at Balcomie this afternoon. They also have slightly upturned snouts compared to the long, Roman noses of grey seals. The head wound is on the other side.

Posted March 29, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

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