Grey seals pup and adult female lie on the beach together, Blakeney Point

Seal pups - winter beach babies

Find out more about seal pups, and where you can see them.

What happens when seal pups are born

Autumn and winter is when most female grey seals haul themselves ashore to give birth. 

It seems like a strange time to do it, when icy winds are blowing and the nights are long. One explanation is that after a summer of catching fish, the females are simply in great shape to feed their young.

When pups are born the mothers spin round to sniff them and get to know their smell. The pups are covered in fluffy white fur, not good camouflage on sand or pebbles you might think, but that's because it's a relic from the ice age when they would have been born on snow! 

Female grey seals are dedicated parents, spending several weeks feeding their pups and losing up-to 65kg in the process. The pups drink two and a half litres of milk every day and it's so rich pups can grow by as much as 30kg in two weeks.  

After a month or so, females leave their pups and head back out to sea where they feed and mate again. The pups can spend up to two weeks all alone on the beach while they build up the courage (and the right fur) to take the plunge into the sea and learn to fish for themselves.

Two week old atlantic grey seal, Norfolk

Yawning seal pup

Watch this adorable seal pup yawn

Watch this adorable seal pup yawn 

Seal pup yawning video screenshot

Perfectly adapted

How long can you hold your breath underwater? Probably not much more than a minute. A seal can stay below the surface for eight minutes at a time. How is it able to achieve such a lung-bursting feat? The answer is simple – seals can store oxygen somewhere else. They can breathe in oxygen-rich air and dissolve it in their blood and in their muscles, as well as keeping it in their lungs.

Looking at a seal’s shape, it is hard to believe that this is a mammal. But imagine your arms and legs shrunk to almost nothing and your hands and feet grew very big. Those giant hands and feet would make great flippers for moving quickly in the water. They are perfect paddles for chasing after cod, haddock and other fast-moving fish.

But it's cold!

If you tried swimming in the sea in the middle of winter, then you'd likely die of cold within a couple of hours. But a seal spends all day in the freezing ocean. The secret of its shiver-free success is a layer of fat called blubber under the skin that is as thick as the length of your middle finger. This keeps the seal nice and warm in our cold seas. 

You can find out more about our other native seal, the common seal, and how to tell the two species apart on our online community

Common seal small group hauled out on rocks, Rathlin Island

See them for yourself

The pupping season for grey seals starts as early as August in Cornwall, then September-October in Wales and November-December in Scotland and down the East coast of England. 

It's possible to see seal pups on beaches and it's a wonderful thing to behold, but you should keep your distance and respect that these are wild animals; they have teeth like a dog and can inflict a nasty bite (even the pups).

There are plenty of sites around the UK where you can spot seals, why not take the family? 

 Grey seals adult female on the beach, Blakeney Point