Teutonic Safari: Spotting Rare Wild Animals in Germany

By Lisa Goldmann

Part 5: Cute Seals in the North Sea

A grey seal pup on the beach of the German North Sea island of Helgoland. Zoom
DPA

A grey seal pup on the beach of the German North Sea island of Helgoland.

Everyones has seen photos of impossibly cute seal pups with their thick white fur and big, black eyes. The two indigenous species of seal, the grey seal and harbor seal, were once almost extinct in Germany. Fishing deprived them of food and many seals were killed because they were seen as a threat to the industry. There was even a time when premiums were paid for dead seals.

But the grey seal and harbor seal are now protected species and and their numbers are growing again in the North Sea. The grey seal, weighing up to 300 kilos and twice as big as the harbor seal, is Germany's largest predator. The island of Helgoland in the North Sea is a favored place for seal-watching. The animals lie on the nearby island of DŁne, close to restaurants and beaches.

The Jordsand conservation group organizes regular trips to see the seals. "Up to 200 seals lie on DŁne during the breeding season," says Ulrich Kieschnick, a local guide. The highlights of the year are in May and June when the harbor seal cubs are born, and in December and January, when the grey seal cubs are born. The little white cubs spend four weeks on the beach and are suckled by their mothers before they learn to swim in the sea.

"The harbour seals are pretty quiet but the grey seals are always noisy," says Kieschnick. Grey seals communicate through grunts in various pitches. "If you keep quiet and avoid hectic movements you can get as close as 30 meters to the seals."

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