During the months of November to February a colony of Grey Seals come onto the beach at Horsey Gap in Norfolk to breed. Around half of the world’s Grey Seal population are found in Britain and Horsey remains one of the few accessible mainland Grey Seal breeding sites in the UK.
I had visited Horsey Gap about six years ago to try and record seal vocalisations but sadly a few days before I arrived there was a big storm out to sea and a large sea surge had killed about 90% of the seal pups. As a result, the local wardens had completely closed off access to the beach making it impossible to get close enough to record.
I had tried to return to Horsey almost every year since but have never managed to make it back until this year. The weather is unpredictable at this time of year but I had luck on my side and was blessed with stunning blue skies and sunshine. There were some choppy waves and a fair amount of wind but it is rarely dead calm on this part of the coast.
I arrived not long after dawn and was pleased to only see a couple of other cars in the car park (this place can get very busy in peak breeding season). After parking my car and preparing my kit, I was informed by one of the local wardens where I could find the seals. I walked down the beach from the car park and immediately saw a few seals swimming in the sea, which I took as a good sign. After walking a further 500 metres I saw the first rookery (breeding area) with a large group of about 50 seals, a mix of bulls, cows and young. Looking further down the beach I could see two further rookeries each with another 50 or so seals.
The beach was really calm, with only one other photographer there when I arrived. I spent around 2 hours observing the seals and making recordings, during which time I met only a few other people. I recorded using my Telinga parabolic reflector which helped me focus on the vocalisations whilst remaining at a safe distance so not to disturb the seals. It was difficult not to record the sea in the soundscape as it was fairly choppy, but I was very pleased to have had the chance to record these wonderful creatures. We hear the regular whines made by the cows and young plus the occasional growl by the bulls. There are also a few moments where we hear two seals vocalise as they fight.
It was early in the breeding season so there were no seal pups on the beach. The first pup of the season had been born just a few days before I arrived but I didn’t manage to see it. But the advantage of being there early in the season was the small number of people on the beach and no restrictions on access. Norfolk is a wonderful part of the UK and has many other nature reserves to enjoy. I’m happy to have recorded the seals but certain this won’t be my last time in the area.