Mystery as seal pupping season 'two weeks late'

Seals at Winterton

Seals preparing to give birth at Winterton where numbers, so far, are down on previous years - but could yet surge. - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

Most years Peter Ansell has a well-rehearsed speech telling people about the seal breeding season and its peaks and troughs.

This year the decorated chairman of the Friends of Horsey Seals has had to re-think his words, because the animals have not kept to their tried and tested timetable.

A grey seal pup on the beach at Horsey Gap. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

A grey seal pup on the beach at Horsey Gap. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire - Credit: PA

"Usually I tell people that come the second week in November there are loads on the beach, peaking in the first and second week in December but this year we are a couple of weeks out," he said.

"It might mean they are hanging back and are all going to charge in at the last minute.

"They are wild animals, they do their own thing. We have no control over them. But they will come."

So far around 70 pups have been born along the stretch from Horsey to Winterton - about half the amount drawing crowds this time last year.

And while there are still plenty to see, they are "about a fortnight out."

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"When you think we expect about 2,500 by the end we are a bit behind,"  he added.

One theory was that they were spending time on Scroby Sands - one person reporting they were "virtually black with seals", although it could be they had hauled out for a rest and would make their way to the shoreline soon.

Meanwhile a chestnut paling fence was still in place guiding visitors and preventing seals from spreading too far into the dunes.

This year it had been extended to Somerton, he added.

A voluntary beach closure is also in place from Winterton to Horsey.

Pupping season, runs from November to January and sees thousands of seals on the beaches.

Over the years the colony has grown attracting more and more visitors.

People are reminded to keep at least 10m away from seals and to stick to the guided routes which are monitored by wardens.

Disturbance can cause a mother to abandon her pup.

Mr Ansell said he was particularly worried about people with dogs at Winterton because they were more used to letting them run off the lead there.

Overall he said 99pc of people were respectful.