Occasionally there are reports of seals which are vagrant rarities on the coast of northeast England. This includes two Arctic species, the Bearded Seal Erignathus barbatus, Harp Seal Phoca groenlandica and the Hooded Seal Cystophora cristata from the North Atlantic.
A Bearded Seal was resident around Hartlepool Dock for about two weeks in January 1999 (Gibson, 2005), while there was a further sighting of this species at Beadnell Bay in May 2011 (J. Mitcham, pers. com. to Natural History Society of Northumbria, 2011).
A juvenile Hooded Seal and its mother were seen around jetties in the Teesmouth area in 2004. The juvenile seal was tended by the RSPCA but later died (Gibson, 2005). More recently, in December 2011, the British Divers Marine Life Rescue treated a Hooded Seal on the beach at Saltburn. Harp Seal have been recorded off Holy Island, Northumberland in September 1995 (Frankis et al, 1997) and more recently on Blyth beach in January 2008 (Revell, 2008). Perhaps the most unusual record is of a “sea-lion” which was reported in 1972 from the Farne Islands (Tegner, 1972). Sea-lion species are native to the Pacific Ocean and the seal in question was referred to as ‘American’ so was possibly the Californian Sea-lion Zalophus californianus. The origin of the single specimen seen is not clear but it is highly unlikely that it swam from the Pacific. This species is that which was once widely kept in circuses and zoos, one of which is more likely to have been the source.
Written by Robert Woods (last updated Nov 12)