Wildlife cham­pion

In our se­ries about peo­ple with a pas­sion for a species, we ask The One Show’s Mi­randa Krestovnik­off why she cares so much about grey seals.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents - MI­RANDA KRESTOVNIK­OFF is a TV pre­sen­ter and au­thor of The Sea: Ex­plor­ing our Blue Planet. She’s ap­pear­ing at the Grant Arms Book Fes­ti­val (see p78).

Why TV pre­sen­ter Mi­randa Krestovnik­off is fas­ci­nated by grey seals

Why are you cham­pi­oning the grey seal?

Some of my very best an­i­mal en­coun­ters have been with in­quis­i­tive grey seals here in UK wa­ters. I find them com­pletely mesmerisin­g and so play­ful. Ev­ery time I have an in­ter­ac­tion with them while scuba div­ing, I feel so lucky that they want to ap­proach and spend time with me in the wa­ter, and I never want those dives to end. Un­like us, they are well adapted for life in the sea, with tor­pedo-shaped bod­ies, large eyes and highly sen­si­tive whiskers, which all en­able them to hunt ef­fi­ciently in the murky depths.

Can you tell us about your first dive with grey seals?

I was film­ing in the Farne Is­lands for the very first se­ries of BBC Two’s Coast, and I had just been told about how ‘full on’ a grey seal en­counter could be, so I was men­tally pre­par­ing my­self for it. Af­ter a few min­utes in the wa­ter, one soli­tary seal just glided past, gave me a cur­sory glance, and then dis­ap­peared. I was left won­der­ing whether that was my ‘en­counter’, but within min­utes the rest of the group crept up be­hind me and started tug­ging at my fins! It was as if that seal had been a ‘scout’ sent to check us out be­fore the rest came in to play.

What are your favourite grey seal facts?

Pups are born white, which is not great cam­ou­flage on sand or peb­bles, but it is a relic from the ice age when the pin­nipeds would have been born on snow! Also, grey seals are one of the rarest seal species in the world, with be­tween 120,000–200,000 in Bri­tain, rep­re­sent­ing 40 per cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion.

Where can grey seals be found in the UK?

All around. Hotspots are in Corn­wall, the Isles of Scilly, Pem­brokeshire, Nor­folk, Orkney and the Farne Is­lands. The pup­ping sea­son starts as early as Au­gust in Corn­wall, then Septem­ber to Oc­to­ber in Wales, and Novem­ber to De­cem­ber in Scot­land and down the east coast of Eng­land. There are plenty of great places to see them hauled out on beaches, but peo­ple need to take care not to dis­turb moth­ers with new pups and to keep dogs on a lead. Pups of­ten get sep­a­rated if dis­turbed, which can lead to star­va­tion.

Are there threats to grey seals?

They can come into con­flict with fish­farm own­ers, in some ar­eas, be­cause the farms are an easy source of food for them. Grey seals are also af­fected by ma­rine plas­tic and other pol­lu­tion. Be­cause they are so in­quis­i­tive, these mam­mals will in­ves­ti­gate un­usual items float­ing in the wa­ter and can get plas­tic or ‘ghost fish­ing gear’ [lost or aban­doned fish­ing equip­ment] wrapped around their necks or flip­pers, which stops them from swim­ming and feed­ing prop­erly – each year, there are many cases of seals be­ing res­cued. Plas­tic has also been found in their fae­ces, passed up through the food chain from the fish that they con­sume.

S I feel so lucky that they want to ap­proach and spend time with me in the wa­ter. T

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