24 February 2020
NORDEN — Mammals
Date of issue: 24.02.2020
Value: 20,00 DKK
Numbers: FO 928
Stamp, size: 40 x 30 mm
Artist: Astrid Andreasen
Printing technique: Offset + UV varnish
Printer: Cartor Security Printing, France
Postal use: Small letters abroad, 0-50 g + Self-adhesive booklet with 6 stamps
The Seal Pup
The seal pup comes into the world covered in a white fluffy fur. With its big wide-open eyes, the seal pup looks adorable and one’s heart fills with tenderness at the sight of this big-eyed, round and fluffy-furred creature. We simply want to take it in our arms and give it a hug.
Throughout times, the seal pup has given rise to thousands of children’s toys. For many children the pup becomes their favourite pet, and when it is time for bed the kids hug their soft diminutive teddy seals. Adult hearts also tend to melt at the sight of young children caressing the big-eyed white and furry plaything.
Once again, Astrid Andreasen has worked long and hard with her crayons. Her fertile imagination and nimble hands have yet again created a masterpiece. In her illustration the seal pup looks alive and lovable. Astrid is a master of portraying a wide variety of natural subjects, especially those of the sea and the ocean floor. We can consider ourselves fortunate here in the Faroe Islands to have such a skilled and versatile artist.
Seals, also known as pinnipeds, are marine mammals. Pinnipeds are a widely distributed species in all the oceans of the world and can also be found in some major lakes and rivers. In Faroese, the female seal is called “opna” and the male seal “brimil” while the offspring is called “nósi”. Over 30 species of seals are found worldwide. In Faroese waters we know of seven species, including the walrus (Odobenus Rosmarus). Gray seal (Halichoerus grypus) is the only mammal with flippers that breeds in the Faroe Islands. Up until the middle of the 19th century, the spotted seal (Phoca largha) also proliferated in the Faroe Islands.
In September – November the female and male seal make their way into rocky and sandy dens down by the shore, all of them facing the sea where mighty waves hit the rugged coast. In these dens, covered with sand, pebbles and rocks, the female seal gives birth to its young.
The seal is a semiaquatic animal, living both on land and in water. It is actually quite clumsy on land, but being an excellent swimmer it hunts with great skill and dexterity in water. The seal goes ashore to rest, shed its fur and mate. It can therefore easily be compared to terrestrial animals since it makes frequent use of its senses of smell and touch – just like other land-based animals.
At birth the baby seal weighs approx. 15 kg. It is born with a thick white coat of fur which protects it from the cold and is shed after a few months. If the baby seal falls into the sea, it can drown because the thick fur absorbs water easily and can become too heavy. It can also die of exposure if the water reaches the skin. From September to November the weather can be cold and windy, causing the death of many a seal pup.
Seal pups suckle for about two weeks. The milk is very nutritious , consisting of approx. 60% fat, so the seal pup grows fast and the layer of blubber thickens quickly, providing better insulation against cold temperatures. After three weeks, the pup already weighs about 50 kg. It now begins to shed the fur and has to find its own food.
During the period from September to November, adult seals enter the dens again to mate and they can also be seen mating on the rocky coast. The female seals are about 5-7 years old when they are sexually mature, while the males are about 7 – 9 years old when they reach maturity. Fish is at the top of the seals’ bill of fare, but they also feed on crabs and squid. It is even said that they have been sighted catching birds.
From the time of settlement to the mid-19th century, regular seal hunting was conducted in the Faroe Islands and remained of great importance to the daily lives of the Faroese. Seal hunting started at Michaelmas, which falls on September 29. The hunters launched their boats and headed to the pupping colonies. The men used oil lamps for light and wooden clubs to kill the seal. The meat was used for consumption, the blubber was melted down for oil, and the skin was dried or tanned and used for shoes, bags and other products.
The legend of the seal woman who came ashore in the village of Mikladalur in the Faroe Islands has become known all over the world. In 2007, Posta issued a mini-sheet featuring episodes from this legend. The ten illustrations were designed by the Faroese artist Edward Fuglø.
Over the last five years tourists have flocked to the Faroes from far and wide, sailing across the fjord to Kalsoy to visit the village of Mikladalur in order to see with their own eyes the beautiful statue of the seal woman, standing on a rocky knoll, called Stórikneysi, down by the beach at Mikladalur. The statue is huge, 2.6 meters in height and weighing almost half a ton. It is located in magnificent natural scenery, typical of the Faroe Islands. The sculpture was made by the renowned sculptor Hans Pauli Olsen and is designed to withstand the fierce storms and mighty waves of the Atlantic, both in summer and winter.
Most people know the story of the seal pups, which in this legend received deadly blows from human hands.
Seal-legends exists in all parts of the world, in Greenland, the Shetland Islands, Ireland and Australia. The Greenlandic legend “Mother of the Sea” is one of compassion and teaches a moral lesson: Nature must be preserved and protected.
Quote from “Mother of the Sea”:
“The Mother of the Sea was distressed by the Inuits’ evil deeds in the settlement and to punish them she gathered together in her fiery hair at the bottom of the sea all the animals the Inuits used to hunt. When “The Blind One” came down to remedy the situation, he combed her hair, gathered the dirt in a heap and then threw it away.
At that same moment everything came alive, and there were bear, fox, hooded seal, bearded seal, ringed seal, harp seal, common seal, walrus, narwhal and all manner of birds.”
We now have this adorable, big-eyed and furry animal on a Faroese stamp. The seal pup now embarks on a round-the-world trip together with all the other fine Faroese stamps.
Have a good journey 😊.
Mourits Mohr Joensen
The NORDEN 2020 stamp from Faroe Islands depicts a Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus). According to Wikipedia,
“The grey seal is found on both shores of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is a large seal of the family Phocidae which are commonly referred to as “true seals” or “earless seals”. It is the only species classified in the genus Halichoerus. Its name is spelled gray seal in the US; it is also known as Atlantic seal and the horsehead seal.
This is a fairly large seal, with bulls in the eastern Atlantic populations reaching 1.95–2.3 m (6 ft 5 in–7 ft 7 in) long and weighing 170–310 kg (370–680 lb); the cows are much smaller, typically 1.6–1.95 m (5 ft 3 in–6 ft 5 in) long and 100–190 kg (220–420 lb) in weight. Individuals from the western Atlantic are often much larger, with males averaging up to 2.7 m (8 ft 10 in) and reaching a weight of as much as 400 kg (880 lb) and females averaging up to 2.05 m (6 ft 9 in) and sometimes weighing up to 250 kg (550 lb). Record sized bull grey seals can reach about 3.3 m (10 ft 10 in) in length. A common average weight in Great Britain was found to be about 233 kg (514 lb) for males and 154.6 kg (341 lb) for females whereas in Nova Scotia, Canada adult males averaged 294.6 kg (649 lb) and adult females averaged 224.5 kg (495 lb). It is distinguished from the smaller harbour seal by its straight head profile, nostrils set well apart, and fewer spots on its body. Wintering hooded seals can be confused with grey seals as they are about the same size and somewhat share a large-nosed look but the hooded has a paler base colour and usually evidences a stronger spotting. Grey seals lack external ear flaps and characteristically have large snouts. Bull Greys have larger noses and a less curved profile than common seal bulls. Males are generally darker than females, with lighter patches and often scarring around the neck. Females are silver grey to brown with dark patches.
Ecology and Distribution
In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the grey seal breeds in several colonies on and around the coasts. Notably large colonies are at Blakeney Point in Norfolk, Donna Nook in Lincolnshire, the Farne Islands off the Northumberland Coast (about 6,000 animals), Orkney and North Rona. off the north coast of Scotland, Lambay Island off the coast of Dublin and Ramsey Island off the coast of Pembrokeshire. In the German Bight, colonies exist off the islands Sylt and Amrum and on Heligoland.
In the Western North Atlantic, the grey seal is typically found in large numbers in the coastal waters of Canada and south to Nantucket in the United States. In Canada, it is typically seen in areas such as the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Newfoundland, the Maritimes, and Quebec. The largest colony in the world is at Sable Island, NS. In the United States it is found year-round off the coast of New England, in particular Maine and Massachusetts. Archaeological evidence confirms grey seals in southern New England with remains found on Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard and near the mouth of the Quinnipiac River in New Haven, Connecticut. Its natural range now extends much further south than previously recognised with confirmed sightings in North Carolina. Also, there is a report by Farley Mowat of historic breeding colonies as far south as Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
An isolated population exists in the Baltic Sea, forming the H. grypus balticus subspecies.
Besides these very large colonies, many much smaller ones exist, some of which are well known as tourist attractions despite their small size. Such colonies include one on the Carrack rocks in Cornwall.
During the winter months grey seals can be seen hauled out on rocks, islands, and shoals not far from shore, occasionally coming ashore to rest. In the spring recently weaned pups and yearlings occasionally strand on beaches after becoming separated from their group.
Grey seals are vulnerable to typical predators for a pinniped mammal. Large sharks known to prey on grey seals in Canada, particularly great white sharks but also, upon evidence, additionally Greenland sharks. In the waters of Great Britain, grey seals are a fairly common prey species for killer whales. Apparently, grey seal pups are sometimes taken alive by white-tailed eagles, as well.
The grey seal feeds on a wide variety of fish, mostly benthic or demersal species, taken at depths down to 70 m (230 ft) or more. Sand eels (Ammodytes spp) are important in its diet in many localities. Cod and other gadids, flatfish, herring, wrasse and skates are also important locally. However, it is clear that the grey seal will eat whatever is available, including octopus and lobsters. The average daily food requirement is estimated to be 5 kg (11 lb), though the seal does not feed every day and it fasts during the breeding season.
Recent observations and studies from Scotland, The Netherlands and Germany show that grey seals will also prey and feed on large animals like harbour seals and harbour porpoises. In 2014, a male grey seal in the North Sea was documented and filmed killing and cannibalising 11 pups of its own species over the course of a week. Similar wounds on the carcasses of pups found elsewhere in the region suggest that cannibalism and infanticide may not be uncommon in grey seals. Male grey seals may engage in such behaviour potentially as a way of increasing reproductive success through access to easy prey without leaving prime territory.
Grey seals are capital breeders; they forage to build up stored blubber, which is utilised when they are breeding and weaning their pups, as they do not forage for food at this time. They give birth to a single pup every year, with females’ reproductive years beginning as early as 4 years old and extending up to 30 years of age. All parental care is provided by the female. During breeding, males don’t provide parental care but they defend females against other males for mating. The pups are born at around the mass of 14 kg. They are born in autumn (September to December) in the eastern Atlantic and in winter (January to February) in the west, with a dense, soft silky white fur; at first small, they rapidly fatten up on their mothers’ extremely fat-rich milk. The milk can consist of up to 60% fat. Grey seal pups are precocial, with mothers returning to sea to forage once pups are weaned. Pups also undergo a post-weaning fast before leaving land and learning to swim. Within a month or so they shed the pup fur, grow dense waterproof adult fur, and leave for the sea to learn to fish for themselves. In recent years, the number of grey seals has been on the rise in the west and in the U.S. and Canada there have been calls for a seal cull.
Seal pup first year survival rates are estimated to vary from 80-85% to below 50% depending on location and conditions. Starvation, due to difficulties in learning to feed, appears to be the main cause of pup death.
After near extirpation from hunting grey seals for oil, meat and skins in the United States, sightings began to increase in the late 1980s. Bounties were paid on all kinds of seals up until 1945 in Maine and 1962 in Massachusetts. One year after Congress passed the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act preventing the harming or harassing of seals, a survey of the entire Maine coast found only 30 grey seals. At first grey seal populations increased slowly then rebounded from islands off Maine to Monomoy Island and Nantucket Island off of southern Cape Cod. The southernmost breeding colony was established on Muskeget Island with five pups born in 1988 and over 2,000 counted in 2008. According to a genetics study, the United States population has formed as a result of recolonisation by Canadian seals. By 2009, thousands of grey seals had taken up residence on or near popular swimming beaches on outer Cape Cod, resulting in sightings of great white sharks drawn close to shore to hunt the seals. A count of 15,756 grey seals in southeastern Massachusetts coastal waters was made in 2011 by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Grey seals are being seen increasingly in New York and New Jersey waters, and it is expected that they will establish colonies further south.
In the UK seals are protected under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970, however it does not apply to Northern Ireland. In the UK there have also been calls for a cull from some fishermen, claiming that stocks have declined due to the seals.
The population in the Baltic Sea has increased about 8% per year between 1990 and the mid-2000s with the numbers becoming stagnant since 2005. As of 2011 hunting grey seals is legal in Sweden and Finland with 50% of the quota being used. Other anthropogenic causes of death include drowning in fishing gear.
Grey seals have proved amenable to life in captivity and are commonly found zoo animals around their native range, particularly in Europe. Traditionally they were popular circus animals and often used in performances such as balancing and display acts. At least one grey seal, probably escaped from captivity, has been observed in the Black Sea near the coasts of Ukraine.