Sealing the Deal

The wide open sands of our local beaches aren’t attractive only to our visitors – from November to early February, hundreds of grey seals choose them as the perfect place to breed. And staying in Winterton gives our guests a fabulous opportunity to be part of the whole amazing spectacle.

The females arrive first and, within a day or two, the white, big-eyed babies everyone wants to see are born. The males appear later to stake their claim to a female and, once the pups are weaned, the seals will mate again. Pregnancy is delayed so everything is timed perfectly to come back and give birth next year.

The pups also return, swelling the numbers still further. “Seals will come back to the beach where they were born, so every year we have more and more seals,” says Peter Ansell, chairman of Friends of Horsey Seals, a group of volunteers who keep an eye on the animals. “This year we are expecting to see in the region of 1,700 – last year there were 1,500.”

In its first three weeks of life, a baby seal eats pretty much constantly. Its mother’s milk is full of fat and a pup can put on around 2kg a day... it needs to as, when it is around three weeks old, its mother will leave and it will be on its own. It loses its baby fluff – which is not waterproof – and gains its sleek ‘wetsuit’. Once it gets hungry it heads into the sea, where it has to fend for itself. It has to avoid wandering into other animals’ territories and there’s no mama to show it what to do – so it’s a perilous beginning and more than half the pups will not last their first year. If they do make it, females can live for 35 years – males for 25.

To give them a fighting chance, visitors are asked to follow a few common sense rules. The most important thing to remember is not to disturb them – especially feeding pups. “Pups go from weighing about 5kg to 40kg in three weeks,” says Peter. “They need to feed about six times a day and if they miss a couple of meals it puts them behind, giving them less of a chance.”
And tempting as it may be, don’t try to touch those fluffy, furry bundles.

A fully-grown male seal can weigh as much as 300kg (that’s around 45 stone) and a female about half that and she will be protective of her little one. All seals have a nasty bite, so keeping your distance is as much for your own protection as for theirs. And keep dogs well away and on a lead. Our brand ambassador Digby loves to see them, but he knows to give them space.

Half the world’s grey seals live in Britain (fun fact: their Latin name, Halichoerus grypus, means Hook-nosed Sea Pig) and having this many in such close proximity is something very special. Every year, their territory expands and you can walk along the dunes from Winterton to the breeding site, which takes around an hour. If driving, park at Horsey Gap and walk down the steps. You can also do as we like to do and enjoy a pint or lunch at the Nelson’s Head (Pictured) at Horsey, from where there is an easy walk to the beach.

There are also seal colonies further up the coast at Blakeney, where boat trips take visitors out to see grey and harbour seals (which have their pups in summer) all year round. But it is our neighbourhood group that has really captured the imagination. People make special trips to see them and you can even buy souvenir calendars.

Some of the seals hang around all year so our summer guests might also catch a glimpse of a few, but it is in the winter that you’re guaranteed a sight to remember.