Highlights from the field season 2012

I’ve spent most of the last two months sitting in a small wooden box in the middle of a grey seal colony on the east coast of England. It wasn’t just for fun though, this was part of my research into the links between ‘personality’ and mate choice in female grey seals (you can read about that here). The data for my research comes from behavioural observations of grey seals in the wild. After 320+ hours of observation in the field I think I’ve seen almost everything that happens on a grey seal colony, these are some of the highlights…

As you might expect the weather in November and December can be very cold, we experienced everything from rain, hail and snow to howling gales to bright sunshine. The weather might not always have been welcome but it did make for some nice photographs.

Sunrise over the beach
Sunrise at 7am

We started each day at 6.00am, the mornings were hard but when the weather was good we were rewarded with sunrises like this.

The rainbow after the storm
The rainbow after the storm

The weather on the day this photo was taken was really bad, strong winds and heavy rain from morning till night. This rainbow appeared during a brief window of sunshine at about midday and made an otherwise bad day in the field worthwhile.

Fights were a regular occurrence on the colony, females would fight off the unwanted advances of the ever-present males or fend off other females if they got too close.

Two female grey seals fighting
Two female grey seals fighting

Some of the most memorable fights were between two males competing for access to females.

This photo was taken just before the fight began. The open mouth is a threat.
This photo was taken just before the fight began. Grey seals open their mouths and bare their teeth as a threat behaviour.

This video filmed at the start of the season shows just how aggressive males can be, and this fight was relatively tame!

There were of course lots of opportunities for photographing cute pups, these are some of my favourite photos.

Posing for the camera
Posing for the camera
Chilling out
Chilling out
Grey seal pup in the grass
Grey seal pup in the grass

Grey seal births can happen very quickly and so they are easy to miss. We were very lucky then to see this one up close, the female came right up to the hide before giving birth in front of the video camera!

Those are favourite moments from this season. I’ll be writing up more detailed posts about my research over the next year, in the meantime my lab group has a blog at www.sealbehaviour.wordpress.com that you might be interested in.

5 thoughts on “Highlights from the field season 2012

    1. Thanks! I saw a few births while I was out on fieldwork this year, in most cases it takes about half an hour for the pup to start feeding after birth. The pups grow really fast (from 15 to 55kg in 18 days!). I was lucky enough to see this pup go from birth to leaving the beach and heading out to sea.

  1. chrisjacobs269942891

    Nice story. Curious what came out of your research! ps. the link to the lab group blog isn’t working.

  2. Thanks! I keep meaning to write a post about my results but never seem to get around to it, I will do it soon! Briefly, I found evidence of personality in grey seals which nicely confirms what was found at a different site a couple of years ago. I was hoping to find a link between personality and choosiness of mates by females but sadly I could find no evidence of it. I think maybe my sample sizes were too small and so a longer study might do better.

    The modt intersting thing I found was big difference in the level of aggression between the two sites I was working on. On one site which has thousands of tourist visitors and is muddy and covered in vegetation and pools of water the seals were involved in a large number of low intensity fights with each other. At the other site which is flat and sandy and closed to the public the seals had far fewer fights but when they did fight they were much more intensely agressive. These sites are only 500m apart so there is only one population of seals but they behave quite differently. I’m still not really sure why this is although I discussed some possibilities in my thesis….

    The link is now fixed!

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