Saturday, 23 April 2011

Sun, Seals and Porpoise

Up early at 6am and drove to the north Norfolk coast to walk south along the shoreline from Horsey Gap to Winterton. The huge sandy dune-lined beach here is as remote and wonderful as any I know, and others I can only imagine along the coasts of Africa or Australia, and I am reminded of happy hours spent hunting along the tidelines in the outer Hebrides. Beautiful still morning, sun already warm and a haze out to sea with the skylarks singing as they flew up from the sand dunes as I walked by. Saw a number of seals in the water and was under the distinct impression that they were watching and following me as I walked, the only other mammal up and about at this early hour. Within a mile or so I had found the remains of 3 seal pups, scattered and desiccated scenes of crime, witness to those that didn't survive the winter months between birth and the first warm days of spring. As I approached a small group of people sitting on some rocks at the shore line I saw what I thought were a long line of boulders by the water's edge. I didn't realise what I was looking at, or indeed what these other people had come to look at, until I was almost on top of the colony of basking adult seals. Suddenly aware of their low wailing noises and grunts, I crouched down by the rocks and watched as the adults rolled about, hauled themselves into and out-of the sea and squabbled about little areas of territory on the sand. Walking further up the beach I found what I initially thought was another seal cadaver but which turned out to be the remaining parts of a small porpoise skeleton picked clean by sea birds. The bones of the front fins were missing and the ribs and vertebra cracked by predators or people, but the perfectly evolved fish catching jaws were still armed with neat rows of peg-like teeth.

Initially walking back in the surf, and enjoying bare feet in the sand and the now hot sun overhead, I watched a huge bull grey seal swimming alongside snorting and again observing me from the safety of the water. I walked back along the dunes and picked up a number of large seagull feathers and dried starfish before stopping to have a talk with the man now setting up the coffee stall in the small sandy car-park. When I told him that I hadn't been expecting to see so many seals, and how delighted I was to have seen the adults hauled out on the sand, he said that at night the haunting wailing calls of the seals can be carried miles inland by the wind and the dogs in the village respond by howling back in reply.

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