Rare melanistic seal pups caught on camera

Rangers have spotted 10 melanistic seal pups during the winter 2020-21 pupping season at Blakeney Point.

Rangers have spotted 10 melanistic seal pups during the winter 2020-21 pupping season at Blakeney Point. - Credit: National Trust Images/Hanne Siebers

Rare melanistic seals have been captured on camera in north Norfolk. 

National Trust rangers have spotted 10 of the black-coated animals at the Blakeney Point colony over the course of this winter’s pupping season.

Rachel Tarkenter, from the National Trust, said that while this was not the highest number they had seen at the colony, it was the first time so many had been caught on camera thanks to the work of volunteer seal warden and wildlife photographer Hanne Siebers.

A seal pup at Blakeney Point in north Norfolk. When grey seals moult and reveal a black velvety coat it is identified as...

A seal pup at Blakeney Point in north Norfolk. When grey seals moult and reveal a black velvety coat it is identified as melanistic. - Credit: National Trust Images/Hanne Siebers

Ms Tarkenter said: "Grey seals are born white, and their coat changes when they shed their fur at two-to-three weeks old. 

"It's only when they do their first moult and their black, velvety coat is revealed that they're known as melanistic seals." 

Ms Tarkenter said only around one in 400 grey seals was melanistic.

Grey seals at Blakeney Point, including a melanistic seal pup, right. Grey seals are born white but their coat changes...

Grey seals at Blakeney Point, including a melanistic seal pup, right. Grey seals are born white but their coat changes colour when they shed their fur at two to three weeks old. - Credit: National Trust Images/Hanne Siebers

Rangers have spotted 10 melanistic seal pups during the winter 2020-21 pupping season at Blakeney Point. 

Rangers have spotted 10 melanistic seal pups during the winter 2020-21 pupping season at Blakeney Point. - Credit: National Trust Images/Hanne Siebers


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Melanism is the increased development of the dark-coloured pigment melanin. 

Ms Tarkenter said if anyone came across a seal pup, they should keep their distance and not try to approach or disturb them any way, as this may cause unnecessary stress.

 Black seals are rare but approx 1 in 400 grey seals are melanistic. Ten have been photographed at Blakeney Point this year.

Black seals are rare but approx 1 in 400 grey seals are melanistic. Ten have been photographed at Blakeney Point this year. - Credit: National Trust Images/Hanne Siebers

Close- up of a melanistic grey seal pup moulting at Blakeney Point.

Close-up of a melanistic grey seal pup moulting at Blakeney Point. - Credit: National Trust Images/Hanne Siebers

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Blakeney Point is the largest grey seal colony in England, with around 4,000 pups born this season. 


This is up from just 25 pups in 2001, and 3,399 in 2019.

The success of the colony is due to low levels of disturbance and mortality during the first few key weeks of life and a lack of natural predators.

This rapid expansion had led to a rethink of how the seal pups are counted. 

Until now, the pups were counted individually by rangers and volunteers walking carefully through the colony, but from this year, numbers of newborns and weaned pups will be recorded in just one specific area, giving an indication of how the whole colony is faring.

Leighton Newman, National Trust ranger, said: “When the seals first started pupping here it was really important to count the pups to help us monitor the health of the colony.

“More recently, however, the density of the colony has increased hugely and walking through the colony is now not safe for staff or for the seals."

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