With David Attenborough showcasing weird and wonderful wildlife in jungles and deserts, it’s easy to forget about the nature that we are blessed with here in the Solent.
However, every now and again we are reminded how lucky we are, and the presence of an iconic species such as this harbour seal has that effect!
Seeing a seal resting on the shore or playing in the water is one of the great wildlife watching experiences you can have in this country. This one was spotted recently on the Isle of Wight, but they are also residents of Chichester and Langstone Harbours. In fact, the Solent area has the only known resident population of harbour seals in the eastern English Channel, which is just another reason for us to feel privileged.
Also known as common seals, their first official sighting was 1994. Since then, a small population has slowly established, with around 43-50 Harbour Seals and several Grey Seals recorded in 2015 by the Chichester Harbour Conservancy, Langstone Harbour Board and the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.
The UK is home to approximately 40% of the global population of harbour seals and they are our largest predator. These inquisitive mammals have evolved specially adapted whiskers that help them forage in murky waters, so they can feast on flatfish, round fish and crabs. Their feeding grounds around the Solent extend from Southampton Water to Selsey Bill and they regularly head to the Isle of Wight to feed, in particular visiting Bembridge and Ryde.
Love seeing these magnificent animals as we do, it’s extremely important not get too close. Advice from the Langstone Harbour code of conduct (opens in a new window) states to keep at least 100m away. The Portsmouth canoe club have even had reports that some seals have tried to clamber on board canoes and kayaks! With some seals weighing in at over 100 kg, that could mean a trip out on the water could go south very quickly!
So keep your eyes peeled out there and you may just get rewarded with a sight of one of these beauties. Even though birds are our first love, we have lots of room for other living things too.