A grey seal. Picture by Chris Archbold, of the Hampshire and IW Wildlife Trust.
NATURE NOTESA WEEK or so ago, I went for a late afternoon walk along the revetment between Ventnor and Bonchurch.
The sea was fairly rough and the tide high, making it quite an exciting stroll.
I was rewarded with a sighting of a seal, its head popping up for a few minutes at a time and then disappearing for a while. Several people stopped to watch, and it was around for at least an hour.
From its distinctive profile, and the blotchy grey beneath its head, it was clearly a grey seal and I have never seen one here before.
They do crop up from time to time, but they are not known to be resident. In fact, they are uncommon in the English Channel between Kent and Devon.
From its behaviour, it was clearly feeding, or foraging, and the rough weather may have brought the fish in as it was only 50 to 100 metres or so from the shore. Seals eat all types of fish and will even take crabs, their sensitive whiskers helping them to seek out their prey.
They eat more than five per cent of their body weight each day in order to maintain their body fat and to fuel their predatory lifestyle. They can nap for short snatches while at sea, with their noses poking out of the water, but they usually pull themselves onto rocks when the tide is out, at haul-out sites, to take their sleep.
Grey seals were the first mammals to be given statutory protection, under the Grey Seals Protection Act of 1914, and are now protected under European Union directives.
There are two types of seal seen around the UK coasts, the other type being common (or harbour) seals, of which there is a small resident community in The Solent, centred on Chichester and Langstone harbours.
A recent report has been written following a survey co-ordinated by the South East Marine Programme into The Solent population of harbour seals, but it also contains some information about grey seals.
It confirms grey seal numbers are low in this area but are the seal more likely to be seen in the Western Solent area (usually in ones or twos). They are known to travel further than harbour seals.
Harbour seals are known to visit Bembridge Harbour to forage and I am also aware seals have been seen recently in Newtown National Nature Reserve, although not which species.
The South East Marine Programme was formed in 2000 by The Wildlife Trusts of South East England and is a partnership promoting marine conservation in South East England. For more information on the projects, visit the website for the Hampshire and IW Wildlife Trust at www.hwt.org.uk, where you can find a brief summary of the project and a link to a form on which you can report sightings.
A full copy of the report can be accessed by visiting www.conservancy.co.uk/assets/assets/seal_report_2010.pdf