• Ellie

Photographing Ravenscar's Seal Colony

Yorkshire's beautiful Jurassic coast. I spent many a weekend there as a child; roaming the beach at Robin Hood's Bay searching for fossils, swimming at Scarborough with my sister, but little did I know that it was also host to a colony of around 300 grey seals!

Ravenscar is situated just south of Whitby, with Robin Hood's Bay visible from the cliff tops. I arrived early morning, around 9:30 am, just after high tide. I knew there wouldn't be many seals there at that time, however I wanted to get a few shots of them trying to get a good spot on the rocks. I walked down the cliff along the path and could see some of the seals in the water before I had even reached the rocky shore below. When I arrived I was amazed to see some of the seals had already taken a place on the rocks, and I saw this as an opportunity to photograph them basking in the sunshine. It is strongly advised that people stay at least 10m away from the nearest seal, so i made sure to keep enough distance and stayed as quiet as possible.

As the tide moved out, more and more seals were coming ashore. I managed to witness a few small scraps between some members of the colony as they fought their way to a preferred area. They were very loud, their sound echoed around the bay and could be heard from the clifftops.

I was lucky enough to meet the Park Ranger, Mr David Hermon, who began telling me about the colony and his work there. The colony and its place at Ravenscar is actually fairly recent, around 20 years old or so and had only started to become a tourist hub during the Coronavirus pandemic. He told me that his job was to make sure people obeyed the rules and kept their distance from the seals, as they are extremely threatened by human disturbance. If anyone ventures too close and disturbs them, he said, the seals get scared and go back into the water; this can be dangerous for them as they quickly become fatigued and are at a higher risk of getting injured or even dying. This was a saddening thought so I took extra care when photographing them.

As the tide moved even further out, I was able to walk onto the main group of rocks where the majority of the colony was situated. I was cautious, and made sure I stayed to the centre of the rocks, not getting close to any of the seals. Even when I was 20 or so metres away I felt as though my presence was a somewhat disturbance, so I turned and walked back to the shore.

As I was leaving there was a sudden wave of tourists (probably due to the low tide) and I was shocked to see how many dog walkers there were. Mr Hermon had said that when dogs are taken onto the rocks, they are a huge cause of distress, and the seals are forced to retreat into the sea. It made me angry, yet I felt helpless and sad. I myself had come to merely take photos of the colony, yet I was leaving feeling as though I was part of the problem.

Yes, the colony is magnificent and I recommend the visit, however now that I have seen first hand the potential damage that human presence could be having on the colony, I truly believe that anybody visiting should make attempts to limit their time there, and to most definitely maintain the 10m distance (minimum).

My trip was eyeopening. It has really got me thinking about the future of the colony, and colonies like it, and how we should be making every effort to support our fellow coastal inhabitants in every way we can.

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