The clean up operation

Everyday more and more seals are coming ashore. There the females returning to their pupping places, they usually go back to pup at the same place each year, and the males who claim, or try to, claim a beach or an area with females in it. The male will then mate with as many those females as possible, once they have pupped. Meanwhile younger males are constantly sneaking around the edges trying to creep in and mate with a female when the beachmaster isn’t looking. The beaches are small on the Isle of May and so they can be chaotic places with all this going on. In this situation there are casulties and loses. Some pups are born dead, some die when young, but dead pups means a job for scavangers.

The main scavangers on the Isle of May are the greater black-backed gulls. During the summer about 40 pairs breed on the island but from September other birds from elsewhere pour onto the island to help with the clean-up operation. We are counting between 150 and 200 birds at the moment but at peak seal season there will be 500+ with the highest ever count totalling voer 2000 birds. They are helped with their job by the smaller herring gulls plus maybe a carrion crow or two and also maybe the little rock pipits. Another more unlikely possible contributor to the clean-up operation are the island house mice.

This seal pup was born yesterday morning but appears to have been still born or died soon after birth. Soon the greater black-backed gulls gathered, both 1st year birds (the brown ones) and adult birds to make a start with their vital work of clearing up the dead bodies. It isn’t a pleasent job but someone has to do it.

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