Graphic and photo gallery: Seals show their survival spirit following sea surge
- Credit: Matthew Usher
The big eyes, hint of a smile, and sleek coats make them the cuddly creatures that are part of the 'aah' factor of a visit to north Norfolk's wild coastline.
But this winter's litter of seal pups found themselves born into a raging cauldron of stormy seas that tore many away from their mums and left the newborns' homes ransacked by rampaging waves.
But despite their demure and vulnerable looks, the pups have shown themselves to be true survivors.
With a helping hand from wildlife rescuers they have weathered the storm – and at battered Blakeney they even chalked up record numbers, while the marshes around them resemble a vanquished boxer's bruised face.
There have been scores of deaths, but considering the strength of the storm which swept through their nursery, the Norfolk pups of the worst surge in 60 years have shown they are much stronger than their cuddly toy image.
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Before December 5/6 the RSPCA East Winch Wildlife Centre near King's Lynn was looking after 50 common seal pups.
But within three days of the surge hitting the east coast, 58 tiny white-coated grey seals were brought into the centre after being displaced from their mothers before being fully weaned.
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The majority were under three weeks old, came from Horsey and Winterton and were either weak or had been mauled by dogs.
Alison Charles, centre manager, said: 'It was incredible. We have never experienced anything like it before. The surge tide picked them up and swept them down the coast. The mums couldn't find them. The pups would have starved to death if they had not come in.
'When they came in they were very hungry and calling for their mothers to feed, which was distressing for us to hear.'
The centre has had 108 pups brought in since the storm, though it has slowed to a trickle of two a weekend. Miraculously only nine pups died at East Winch, and about 20 of the creatures will be released into the sea from Horsey over the next few weeks. She added: 'The fact that any of them survived is incredible. The ones with white coats did well to get out of the water. Seals are resilient and hopefully the pups will live a long life. They are tough little cookies.'
Mrs Charles added: 'I cannot praise the staff and volunteers enough. It was a great team effort. We were very lucky because we didn't have the usual number of animals in because of the mild weather.'
However, other patients had to make way for the stream of seals arriving at its A&E. Hedgehogs were moved into the visitors centre and swans moved to the theatre area.
The pups initially needed three-hour feeds, from rehydration solution, to liquidised fish soup and eventually whole fish.
Currently 31 remain in isolation; 16 are in the indoor intermediate pools; 22 are in outdoor courtyard pools; and 15 are in outdoor swan pools. Mrs Charles said she could not believe the amount of public support after more than £100,000 was donated to the centre.
If anyone sees a seal or seal pup in distress call 01263 740241 or 0300 123 4999 but do not get too close. Dogs should be kept on leads.
Do you have an interesting wildlife story? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Weather round-up – pages 4-5