Gray Seals In The Wild | JONATHAN BIRD’S BLUE WORLD


Coming up, Jonathan meets some adorable undersea
puppydogs! Welcome to Jonathan Bird’s Blue World! It’s summer in Gloucester, Massachusetts
and I’m boarding the dive boat Down Under with Captain Fran. We shove off from the dock and make our way
out of Gloucester harbor. Then we set a course north. We’re heading to the Isles-of-Shoals, a
small group of islands at the border of New Hampshire and Maine in the northeastern United
States. It takes about an hour to cruise north, as
we take in the beautiful New England coastline. Finally we reach Jimmie’s Ledge at Duck
Island, and drop anchor in shallow water. From all directions, curious seals come to
the boat to have a look. We’ll throw the anchor in, we don’t want
to scare them. Like aquatic dogs, seals have a natural curiosity. But they are also cautious, and they have
good reason to be. Seals used to be extremely plentiful on the
shores of New England. So plentiful that fishermen felt they were
a nuisance…eating way too many fish. As more and more fishing boats took to the
waters, and the catches of haddock, flounder and codfish began to decline, the fishermen
blamed the seals. All over New England, a seal hunt began, just
to reduce their numbers. Massachusetts even issued a bounty system. They actually paid people to go out and kill
seals. Not for meat or hides or oil. Just to get rid of them. By the time seals finally got protection under
the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1973, they were virtually gone from New England. The Gray seal, formerly known to breed as
far south as Cape Cod, had been virtually exterminated from U.S. waters, with only small
populations surviving in eastern Canada. Seals were also the primary food of apex predators
like the Great White shark. Once there were no more seals, there were
no more sharks—probably a blessing for fishermen at the time, who were terrified of sharks. Now, after more than 40 years of protection,
seals in New England have made a fantastic comeback. Here at the Isles-of-Shoals, Gray seals pop
their heads above water all around the boat. And this season’s generation of adolescents–born
only 6 to 7 months ago–are playful and curious. As the summer water in New England is in the
mid-60s, I don’t need a drysuit. My 7mm full wetsuit should be more than enough
protection. Here we go, OK. I drop into the green water, and head to the
bottom, barely 20 feet below the boat. The key to interacting with a seal is to pique
its curiosity so it wants to come and check you out. Seals are way too fast to chase, and that’s
illegal. They can hear you coming a hundred yards away,
so you can’t sneak up on them either. They are masters of this environment. To the seals, Cameraman Tim and I are bumbling,
noisy, flailing bubble-blowers. But because we are so utterly ridiculous underwater,
the seals actually find us interesting. So my trick is to look like I’m doing something
really cool. Something so interesting in fact that a seal
just has to come check it out. Since summer in New England means murky plankton-filled
water, the visibility is not that great. So the seals have to come pretty close to
see what we are doing. Only the adolescents are curious. The adults have much more important things
to do. First they make quick passes to check us out. But it doesn’t take long for one of the
young seals to muster the courage to come over for a close look at me. He is first interested in my fins. But once he feels my soft neoprene wetsuit,
he wants to know more. Seals investigate with their mouths. I’m not worried about being bitten. This is just his way of learning. Meanwhile another seal is checking out Cameraman
Tim, doing pretty much the same thing. Like undersea puppydogs, the seals are curious
and completely non-aggressive. Their curiosity extends to things beyond divers. A lobster trap on the sea floor has a rope
that leads up to a buoy on the surface. The seals play endlessly with the rope. Many times I fear that this young seal will
become entangled and need to be rescued. Yet time after time she manages to un-entangle
herself and swim away. Down at the bottom of a gulley where this
lobster trap is sitting, the water is cold. Cold enough that I wish I had worn my drysuit. It’s freezing! Even though I’m shivering, I hang in there
a little longer because the seals are so fun to watch. But eventually, I get low on air and it’s
time to head up. Whew! The surface water is so nice and warm—63
degrees, perfect for my 7 mil wetsuit, but the seals are hanging out on the bottom, 40
feet down, and it’s 48 degrees down there! I was freezing my butt off! But the seals were awesome! Six months later, it’s winter in New England
and I have just arrived on the quaint sleepy island of Nantucket. Nantucket is a small island in Masssachusetts,
south of Cape Cod. Off the west end of Nantucket is an even smaller
island, called Muskeget. This tiny uninhabited and privately-owned
island happens to be home to the southernmost breeding colony of Gray Seals. I have been invited to join a team of researchers
working with Gray Seals at Muskeget Island. We board a couple small boats and head out
on a perfect, calm day. It’s bitterly cold. The surface of the ocean actually has ice
forming on it. But the sun is shining and it’s not too
windy. Only perfectly calm conditions allow reaching
Muskeget at this time of the year. I would much rather be doing this in the summer,
but alas, Gray seals give birth to their pups in the middle of the harshest time of year. Within 30 minutes, our team reaches the sandy
shore of Muskeget. We have permission from the island owner to
go ashore. And the team has permits from NOAA to approach
the seals for their research. Even I had to get a special permit to join
them. The seals like to come here to have their
pups because it’s secluded and safe. They give birth in the winter because the
water is too cold for sharks. Everywhere I look there are moms nursing their
pups. The pups are pretty much the cutest animals
you will ever see–little white fuzzballs laying helplessly on the sand. While the pup is snoozing, his mom might wander
off to socialize. If she doesn’t come back soon enough, he
cries for her. But when she does finally come back, its time
for some milk. A pup receives only three weeks of care from
its mother, and that’s it. Then the pup is on its own. It will shed its baby fur and learn to catch
fish. To accomplish that, Gray seal pups feast on
the richest milk in the world—up to 60% fat! Compare that to cow’s milk , which is under
4% fat. Some of them don’t make it. The big males, up to 800 pounds, come here
to mate. And they are not patient. On the beach, a female is protecting her pup. But a pair of males are waiting for a good
time to make a move. The larger male tries to sneak up to her. But she is having none of it. She is not ready to mate until her pup is
weaned. Being patient is difficult. As another hopeful male looks on, the pair
of males begins to fight. If they can’t have the female, they can
at least figure out who is more likely to get her. The vanquished has learned his lesson. A few hours later, the big bull has found
a different female who seems a little more receptive. And again, another bull is watching, hoping
to steal her away. He has little chance, given how charming and
persuasive the larger bull is. Nobody will ever accuse seals of being very
romantic. Eventually the female succumbs to his charms. Males are known to crush the pups while trying
to mate with a female. Most pups learn quickly to stay out of the
way. In the more than 40 years since seal hunting
stopped in New England, Gray seal populations have undertaken a slow recovery. But now, with more and more females producing
a new pup every year, the numbers of seals are really starting to climb. Mike Jech, Jennifer Johnson and Beth Josephson
from NOAA are trying to learn about the rate of population growth. They are doing annual aerial surveys to count
pups using a drone. By flying up the beach and taking pictures
at regular intervals with a high resolution camera, they can get a good assessment each
year of the growth in the population. What they have learned is that the seals are
on the rebound. But it’s not necessarily good news for everyone. Private pilot Aaron Knight shot some video
from his airplane that illustrates the issue. Seals are taking over Cape Cod beaches. People are starting to worry about the impact
on the beaches, the fish populations and something you might not expect: Great White Sharks. The recovery of the seals has contributed
to the recovery of their greatest predator. But while its possible this could lead to
a shark attack at one of the beaches, the sharks seem to be focused very specifically
on eating seals. Some local residents say that the sharks are
not eating enough seals to control the population, and the seals are becoming a big problem. Do the seals need to lose their protected
status? That is a battle which is almost certainly
coming. But the good news is that Gray seals are back. A species which had almost vanished from the
United States has recovered, thanks to more than 40 years of protection. For anyone who has ever had the chance to
see a fluffy Gray seal pup or scuba dive with an inquisitive and playful adolescent, this
can be nothing but great news. Let’s face it, there is something wonderful
about an animal so adorable and curious as a Gray seal.

100 thoughts on “Gray Seals In The Wild | JONATHAN BIRD’S BLUE WORLD

  1. Great video! And super adorable seals. That curious adolescent trying to figure out your flippers was so cute!

  2. Hi Jonathan, you have been an inspiration for me growing up, I only just started travelling and my dream is to one day be able to make proper documentaries like you.

  3. Hey I'm a 13 years old Canadien boy, I really want to win the tooth cause I'm a huge fan of sharks for a long long time. Every time that i needed to make a project, I always use sharks or Megalodon, and i always use your information from your video in sharks academy. In the future, I want to be a marine biologist thanks to you. And if I win the tooth, it will be a souvenir of you for helping me to find my dream job. If I win i will be the happiest person in the world…………
    Thanks ?

  4. You should visit the Oklahoma aquarium it has the biggest bull shark exhibit in the world they may let you dive there. Just let me know if you go and what date you will go.

  5. Hi some years ago there was some dolfins and there has been we have not sean them since then or before o Wonder Why can you tell me (i live in the Southeast of Norway)

  6. it sucks that in the USA islands and so much of coastline can be privatized and closed off to the public. Hard to get find enough public access. Great footage though.

  7. I find it really really really wasteful to hunt an animal and not use any part of the animal also question, did you decided to hang back and talk behind the camera

  8. Hi jonthan bird how was your new year and did you get the video megalodon shark tooth giveaway and I really want a tooth because I want to learn about the tooth like how big the tooth and I really like your adventures in the sea

  9. one thing i still dont understand this channel and its content is unique still it has very few subscribers why? this channel deserve at least 20m subscribers… youtube must not be aware of this channel

  10. How sad that humans seem to believe that they have the right to exterminate any wildlife they don't want to be around. We should learn to be respectful of all wildlife because it is their planet too. It's good to see that these seals are making a come back. Thank You Jonathan Bird for all you do to educate us all about the incredible oceans and the creatures that live in them

  11. We need the Great White population to grow. Sharks are not out to eat humans at all and we need them for the Ocean to be healthy.

  12. THE SEAL PUPS ARE THE CUTEST THING IVE EVER SEEN OMG I'm obsessed lol. The shot of the dead one made my heart break tho ;(

  13. Hahahah the female freaking out bc the male was tryna get it on w her was too funny. Also the pups cries sound so much like a human

  14. I don't wanna live in a world without seals. Thanks for the great vid, awesome footage and very informative!

  15. "Some of them don't make it" JFC you can't make a hard cut like that LMAO. I was enjoying the cute baby seals when all of sudden there's a disturbing corpse on my screen, give us a little warning would you?

  16. Simple solution: keep protecting sharkies!!! Let them have time to recover their populations (they need a LOT) then they'll get back to their job of managing seals.

  17. Man only thinks of their benefits, the the rest around them doesnt matter, they blame the seal but the cant blame them back, but mother nature has its own way of getting back humans for payback

  18. We spent time with wild seals at Baird Bay South Australia. One would nibble my bare feet. Lol There was another that played with a dive belt and allowed us to put our arms around him and give him a kiss. Only one individual would do this. Wild but friendly. Great video again. Thanks.

  19. The fishermen blamed the seals

    Lol wtf , there were so many fish back then compared to now . What happened to all the fish, guess the killing of seal didn't work at all.

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