A couple of blogs ago we mentioned the rapid weaning of pups. Once their mums have mated with a male, and then finally decided they have invested enough energy and time into their pup, they’re off, back to the sea to fatten up again, ready for next autumn’s breeding season. This can happen very abruptly. Today we watched a mother with a pup that was probably 16-18 days old (it had lost most of its white coat, the lanugo, so that its first ‘adult’ coat was evident), so this was around the typical time for mums to wean their pups. We watched her all morning, and for 2 to 3 hours she lay beside her pup quite happily, both fast asleep. Then, she woke up, raised her head high, and took a few good sniffs of the air – facing in the direction of the onshore breeze. Then, all of a sudden, she started moving away from her pup and towards the sea (a good 100 m away over rugged rocky terrain). She paused every now an then to lift her head and smell the sea breeze again, before continuing her progress back to the sea. And that’s it, the pup is now weaned. I wonder what the pup ‘thought’ when he finally woke up and mum was nowhere to be seen!
Weaned pups are great fun – they get up to all sorts of amusing antics as they explore the colony. Weaned pups tend to get ‘pushed’ inland as a by product of avoiding aggression from the adults in the main seal aggregations of the island. Often you will be walking around an apparently empty part of the island, step over a rock, and find a weaner fast asleep, sheltering from the wind or sun! Sometimes weaners form little ‘gangs’, where a string of weaners all start following each other, often to the annoyance of the leading weaner!
But, as any true seal, what they spend most time doing is resting!
Weaned pups will stay on the island for 3 or 4 more weeks, undergoing the ‘post-weaning’ fast. Why they stay on the colony for so long, and what triggers their eventual departure to the sea for the first time is a fascinating area of research, and one that is lead by our colleagues from Abertay and the SMRU here – you can see much more about their research and finding here https://kellyrobinsonscience.wordpress.com/blog/, and here http://www.abertay.ac.uk/staff/k_bennett_f642c.html