At school, Mr Waite showed our class of 11-year-olds a video of seal pups being clubbed to death by fur hunters, and half the class ran out of the room puking/crying (shame on you, other half!). These days, thankfully everyone loves seals, from bearded knitwear donning wildlife spotters, to surfers, and of course sharks, who love them for lunch. Unlike many pro surfers, seals are charismatic creatures, full of intrigue and natural curiosity. While your fellow lineupees may look away or pretend not to see your wave, seals bob there watching you. Not judging, just watching
Britain is home to two species of seal, Grey (Halichoerus grypus) and Common (Phoca vitulina). The main difference can be seen in their facial shapes, as Common Seals have short muzzles and V-shaped nostrils while Greys have a longer muzzle and parallel nostrils. The UK is actually home to half the world’s population of Grey seals, so it’s a great place to see them. Whether it be in Newquay Bay, at some mysto Norfolk rarity or up in the Orkneys, the UK coast is rich in seal life, so surfing with them is fortunately not a rare encounter for Britons. You can actually enjoy surfing with them too, seeing as things that eat them, i.e. Great Whites, don’t live in Britain.
You probably wouldn’t swim around a seal colony in South Africa or South Australia with the same carefree abandon. While only the Grey and the Common actually breed around the UK, you might also see vagrant northern visitors like Ringed (Pusa hispida), Harp (Pagophilus groenlandicus), Hooded (Cystophora cristata) and Bearded (Erignathus barbatus) seals.
Overseas, you might find seal species not as ‘friendly’ as ours. Hawaiian Monk Seals (Monachus schauinslandi) are an endangered species, and getting close is prohibited by law, hence why you see them getting an area around them roped off by lifeguards when they beach. They have also have been known to attack snorkelers, especially when nursing pups. In the 2010 Pipemasters, Slater climbed on the back of the water patrol jetski during his heat after being advised to ‘Get out of the water’ by Mark Cunningham, in the only recorded seal-scare in ASP history. Meanwhile in the Southern Hemisphere, if you’re planning an Antarctic surf trip like Kepa Acero, watch out for Leopard Seals (Hydrurga leptonyx), the only seal known to have been responsible for a fatal attack on humans (in 2003).
Seal you in the lineup!