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Three-week-old seal pups survive 350-mile swim

25/01/2011 07:16:13
uk/farne_island_seal-pup

SURVIVED: One of the young pups

All three pups survived the mammoth journey
January 2011: Three young grey seal pups born on the National Trust's Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast have been discovered hundreds of miles away on a Dutch beach.

The first of the ‘Farne Island three' was found on the December 13 past year and was less than three weeks old when it made the 350-mile journey. After being found by a member of the public it was taken to a seal rescue centre in Holland.

All recovering well from ordeal
Pups two and three were found at the beginning of this month and were taken to the same centre. All of the seal pups are recovering well and will be released back into the wild once they have put on enough weight; and they could potentially return home to the Farne Islands or another UK colony.

David Steel, National Trust Head Warden for the Farne Islands, said: ‘This is a remarkable tale of determination and survival in the turbulent waters of the North Sea. For three young grey seal pups to make it through such an ordeal is amazing.' Late November and early December saw easterly winds and stormy seas around the Farne Islands which would have played a part in sweeping the seal pups far out into the sea.

Pups don't normally leave colony until they are weaned
More than 1,300 pups are born each year on the Farne Islands. Although grey seal pups can swim at an early age they don't normally leave the breeding colony until they have weaned and moulted their white coats. The Farne Islands is the only place in the UK to use coloured dye to tag the newly born seals - most pup census work at other sites is carried out by aerial surveys. 

The colours are rotated during every colony count; two of the seals had blue dye putting their birth around November 30, and the third pup had yellow dye, putting its birth date at around mid November.

Home to one of the largest grey seal colonies in England, the islands are also famous for its seabirds, which include puffins. In 2008, otter prints were discovered on Brownsman Island after the mammal braved the swirls and tides of the area around the Farne Islands. Mr Steel added: ‘The two pups with the blue dye would have still been dependent on their parents and the third pup would have only just gained its independence when they began their mammoth journey. Young pups have been discovered along the Northumberland coastline but this a real rarity.'

Stormy seas mean survival is tough
Tagging and survey work on grey seals has been taking place on the Farne Islands since the early 1950s - the longest running study of grey seals in the world - and the place where seal tagging was pioneered. 

The survival rate of grey seals in the stormy sea around the islands is low with more than 45 per cent of pups not surviving the winter months. Previous records suggest that older seals from the Islands have made it as far as Norway and the Faroe Islands.

Dr Bernie McConnell from the Sea Mammal Research Centre at the University of St Andrews, said: ‘From our own survey work it appears that grey seal pups spend a significant part of their first year exploring - often to places hundreds of miles away.'

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