I’m often talking to the public about the on-goings of wildlife in the harbour and almost always it’s dominated by birds because, as i’m sure many of you are aware, we have a fair few birds around.
What surprises me though is the lack of knowledge that we have on, in my opinion, one of the most charismatic and graceful creatures living within our waters. The Common Seal. Also known as Harbour Seals, they are found around the coast of the UK. They are fairly infrequent along the south coast, especially in a busy strip such as the Solent but they have, against all the odds, set up home in Langstone and Chichester. I don’t know if they have always been there in low numbers or have recolonized at some point in the recent past.
They are in low numbers, I believe 43 was the last count over the two harbours. That doesn’t sound low but then when compared to high density areas such as Scotland and Cornwall, this is pretty a small number. In fact the vast majority of the seals in the UK, which make up a large proportion of the global population, live in Scotland. This, you assume, is due to the lack of people in Scotland and the endless uninhabited beaches and islands. The waters up there are also very rich in fish. Compare them to the Solent and you are justified in your surprise that they persist here.
Langstone and Chichester Harbour however are very different to Scotland with more activity such as boats, ships, canoes, water skiers and a very high population and development rate. It does, at low tide, offer numerous safe haul outs for the seals. Unlike Grey Seals which favour rocky secluded shoreline, Harbour Seals prefer sandy/muddy flat areas where they can beach themselves at low tide and float off when it rises. This the harbour has in abundance.
The Wildlife Trust initiated a joint project a few years ago to look at the population in the harbour. Some very interesting stuff was discovered, especially with the radio tracked individuals. These showed just how mobile they are, ranging long distances to feed but returning to the same haul outs.
Farlington is a reliable spot to see them. On a nice day you can sit at the point with a scope and at low tide, if you scan the mudflats and sand bars you’re likely to come across one or two. I also regularly see them swimming around the islands off to the east.
All in all, we’re very lucky to have them. Common seals are decreasing, despite their name and it’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for them.
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