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The Seals of Cwmtydu


A very public row  broke out in the normally peaceful community of Cwmtydu near New Quay a couple of years ago. At the centre of the controversy was a family of protected Atlantic Grey Seals that had chosen Cwmtydu beach as a nursery. A council notice appeared on the beach apparently banning people from using the beach - much to the anger of some local residents and business owners. The local paper the 'Cambrian News' has widely covered the saga.
 

An enthusiastic group of seal watchers at Cwmtydu. The pup is circled, the bull seal wallows in the surf. Photo by Rod Attrill

The Mother Seal with her pup at the far side of the beach. Photo by Rod Attrill

An enthusiastic group of seal watchers at Cwmtydu. The pup is circled, the bull seal wallows in the surf.

The Mother Seal at Cwmtydu with her pup at the far side of the beach.


We visited the beach on the afternoon of September 22nd, 2004 - a windy and rather damp day. Normally the car park at Cwmtydu would have been almost empty on such a miserable day, but we found it packed with cars, their passengers lining the beach wall with cameras, binoculars and telephoto lenses. There may have been no tourists on the beach, but there were plenty of Seal watchers!

The Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) is Britain's largest Seal with the larger males weighing up to 230 kg or more than 500 lbs in weight. They are thought to live at least 25 years, becoming sexually mature after 4 or 5 years. Grey Seals give birth on the beach to a single pup in the Autumn. The pup, born with a pure white coat is only suckled for just over two weeks during which time the mother can lose almost thirty percent of her bodyweight. The pup grows rapidly at this time, efficiently utilising the transferred energy in the mother's milk. Towards the end of lactation, the white fur is replaced by darker fur - a process taking some 16 days in West Wales.

Grey Seal pups are white for the first two
weeks of their life.

A mature  Atlantic Grey Seal

There are thought to be more than 200,000 Atlantic Grey Seals ranging from Scandinavia to France. Of these more than half are found primarily on the coasts of West Scotland and the Scottish Islands, West Wales, the south west and western Ireland. The population has recovered well in the last ninety years from a low of only some 500 individuals in 1914. Until this time, the seals were hunted throughout their range. 

In the late 1980's, a virus killed more than 10,000 common Seals in British waters, however, the Atlantic Grey Seal was more resistant to the virus and few died although blood tests have shown antibodies to this infection to be widely present in Grey Seals. 

There are indications that the West Wales population of this species are increasing. This can only be good news for local tourism, for along with Bottlenose Dolphins and Red Kites, they are high on the list of species that visitors to the area look forward to seeing.

2004 Rod Attrill