Baby Seals on Yellow Island

Written & photographed by Phil Green, Yellow Island Land Steward

July, the seal pupping month.The flowers are mostly gone, the meadows mostly brown and the east spit is closed to boat landings. So why would anyone want to come to Yellow at this time of year. Well, the weather is generally warm (not hot) and dry and the views are amazing. But the real attraction in July is seeing baby seals.

I generally walk the spits every morning looking for signs of a birth. This can take a couple forms. If I see a pile of fur on the beach, this is lanugo, a body hair that all mammals have in the womb. If it doesn't come off in the womb, then it sometimes gets rubbed off in the birthing process and a sure sign a seal was born here the previous night.

Lanugo and amniotic sac

Another way is to find an entire placenta. It may look a little gross but it's actually a sign of new life, (100% guarantee there's a new pup out there somewhere) not to mention the placenta will be food for eagles, vultures, crows and ravens.

Seal Placenta

This is my eighteenth pupping season and I have only witnessed one birth. Luck was with me and I actually had a camera with me. The whole process lasted maybe 20 seconds from starting to contract to the pup being fully out.

Seal Birth 

I watched the pup grow over the next month as the mom and pup always used the same haulout rock. 

Other seal births I just missed like the following where the pup is still 'wearing' it's amniotic sac. 

There are times when up to half a dozen mom and pup pairs are swimming around like this and something many visitors get to see. And the reason the spits are closed: even when the birthing time is over the spits are still used as haulout sites and nurseries. And just because a pup is alone on the rocks or beach, leave them be. Mom still has to eat, so she's off fishing. The pup stands a much better chance of survival if humans just stay clear.

All photos for this blog were taken over the past dozen years. But I can guarantee any one of these photos could have been taken this year. It's what makes summer special on Yellow!