Grey Seals are a characterising element of Bardsey’s coast in the present day, with as many as 300 hauling out along seaweed-strewn rocks at low tide. This wasn’t always the case, though, with a mixture of disturbance and hunting until the late 1900s restricting the island’s population to a few tens prior to the turn of the century.
Whilst it’s tempting to describe the seals as being Bardsey’s Grey Seals, this statement falls short of the truth: the island is actually likely to be a regular stop-off point for seals travelling between colonies within the Celtic and Irish sea, for example from Skomer in south Wales to Hilbre in Liverpool Bay.
A few years ago, for example, one intrepid Grey Seal pup fitted with a satellite tag surprised us all: born a yellow-white pup on one of the island’s sheltered coves, this pup travelled all the way to the north coast of France within a matter of months after moulting and taking to the sea – some 900km away!
Most investigative work into Grey Seal’s habits and movement relies on photo ID of their distinctive coats. Much like fingerprints, the patterns and colours of their fur is often transposed in unique shapes that – to the trained eye – can be matched if ever seen again.
Some seals are also fitted with small ID-tags on their rear flippers, and it was with some excitment that one such individual turned up in Cafn last month…
On 22 June, a young Atlantic Grey Seal turned up in a slightly unusual location: hauling out on the the wire-mesh Gabions jutting out from Bardsey’s harbour. It’s rare to see seals choosing this spot as a haul-out, owing to the busy nature of the cove: the coming and going of boats and groups of visitors walking up and down the beach.
But this first-summer seal was clearly uninformed, and remained at its chosen spot even when the day’s first visitors began arriving. It even stayed put when the visitors walked just feet past it on the required route to access the island from the boat’s drop-off point.
A closer look at this curious individual revealed a clue to its nature: a small tag bearing the ID code ‘62777’ adorned its rear flipper. After an email to Cornwall’s Sue Sayer (of the Cornwall Seal Group), the intriguing details as to its story were discovered:
This seal was rescued in Lydstep (Pembrokeshire) on 26th October 2016, and remained in rehab with the RSPCA until the 5th of April this year. Named ‘Black Sheep‘, it clearly didn’t hang around too long after its release in early April, and provides an extra piece of evidence to suggest that Wale’s SW seal population is likely linked to the NW here in northern Wales.