Diary of a Young Naturalist – The Seals

27.05.18 Rue Point Rathlin Island. Full sun.

The overwhelming stench of decomposing Kelp and two nearby dead goats, does little to dull the glimmering expanse. I sit on the bank full of Sea Thistle watching fluttering Pipits among the rocks, scanning for more life with my binoculars. The sun so strong, I squint to view the shapes up ahead.

Sprawled languidly over the rocks like mermaids – Grey Seals. First, one balancing on the rock, then the pile come into view. Hooked nose sea pig, great blubberous forms; basking, a little scratching, hardly fidgeting at all. I feel envious, not only can they afford to lie on rocks all day, one big heave plunges them to the murky depths of seventy metres to feed. Less than a few actions from rest to full doing, no preparation.

I watch, observing and picking out each one’s actions, comparing individuals; they seem to have distinct personalities. Some lazier or perhaps younger. Some sun worshiping and some looking bothered by the heat, heads shelters by rocks. In a few months they’ll begin their breeding. Now resting while they can.

In 1914, they were the first animals given protection by legislation (The Grey Seals Protection Act), but they have caused conflict within the fishing industry and problems with soil erosion in some important sites – such as The Farne Islands. Thankfully though, public outcry in the late 70’s stopped further culls by the fishing industry. I feel sick to think of blood running on our shores in the past…whaling and butchering. I shake out the thoughts.

I keep a fair distance and find great satisfaction watching their interactions. The haul up providing a soap opera of flippers protecting space, wriggling and nudging; a fantastic silent movie for a young naturalist. I relate to their need for ‘personal’ space, their antisocial behaviour.

The wind changes and the smell feels like the Kelp has battered my olfactory system. Enough. Even this most enthusiastic naturalist has had enough. I rise and walk off towards some other sparkly thing of interest.

Thanks for reading



  1. When I lived in Orkney I saw seals most everyday. It was wonderful to watch them hauled up on the rocks looking like grey bananas. They often watched from fairly close in whent the tide was high in the bay near the village on Westray. I have heard them calling once at Evie Beach on the Orkney mainland. They are magical creatures, but have attitude as well. Thank you for sharing your experience of watching them.


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