One of the problems about shooting wildlife, especially photogenic, entertaining, or threatening wildlife, is that you just don’t know when to stop. You shoot dozens of images in case this expression is better than the last, or that the beast in question is more in focus, looks more powerful, and so on. I learnt this when I visited Norfolk last year, or rather I should have. Instead the big brown eyes and dripping whiskers got me every time; so there was lots of editing when I returned.
The grey seal population of the Farne Islands is about 6000 strong, and is carefully managed by the National Trust who have stewardship of the islands as they do at Blakeney, (both Blakeney and the Farnes have witnessed record seal pup births in recent years). In the past they have resorted to culling to keep the numbers down, but public outcry has seen the practice banned except in special circumstance to protect fish stocks or fishing equipment. Salmon fishermen see the seals as a threat to their livelihoods and so there are still controversial kills taking place along our coasts as seals are shot, though the evidence of their impact on fish populations is unclear.
The issue is far more contentious in other nations however, particularly nearer the Arctic Circle where indigenous peoples such as Inuit and Sami have long traditions of seal hunting. Based on the ease with which I can capture then with my camera, I can’t imagine that they are challenging animals for the hunter.
The boatloads of people I have joined in my trips around the Farnes and Blakeney point demonstrate how a living seal can contribute to local economies, so tradition aside it must be a difficult call as to whether they are a cost or a benefit in purely economic terms, though I’m not for a moment suggesting that this should ever be the sole criterion for assessing the worth of any living creature. To these eyes they’re always a welcome sight, which is strange really given their binomial name – halichoerus grypus. It means “hook-nosed sea pig”!
I get the pig reference; basking on rocks and mud flats they share a fatty rotundity with the porcine beasts, but really? Whoever gave them that name clearly wasn’t a fan.
Perhaps a salmon fisherman?