On Tuesday, a rather unusual visitor to Newcastle caused something of a stir.

A fully-grown grey seal was seen swimming in the Tyne close to the Millennium Bridge.

Grey seals are a common feature on the north east coast. The Farne Islands host an especially impressive colony of the animals and estimates suggest up to 4,500 of the seals live around our region’s coastline.

But what you may not know is that it isn’t uncommon for the creatures to venture up the Tyne – right into the centre of Newcastle and beyond.

Dr Richard Bevan, who is a lecturer in zoology at Newcastle University, said, “It’s not unusual for them to swim upstream, but people don’t usually notice them.”

“They don’t need to come to the surface for very long and they can hold their breath for 30 minutes and travel a long way in that time.”

“Seals have been spotted as far up the river as Wylam and Newburn – they follow the tide in to look for fish which have headed inland.”

Seals can, however, face problems from manmade sources. The animals can ingest or become entangled in discarded plastics. They can also get tangled up in ‘ghost nets’ – freely floating bits of net that have been thrown away by fishermen at sea.

Male grey seals can grow to a weight of 310 kg and grey seals are estimated to need around five kg of food a day. They mainly feed on fish.

So what should you do if you notice a seal swimming in the Tyne?

Dr Bevan said, “It’s not advisable to try and feed them – they wouldn’t be interested if it wasn’t a live fish anyway.”

“And it’s certainly not a good idea to try to pet them. They’re friendly, but they’re quite large and have a decent set of teeth on them.”

(Featured image courtesy of Dave_S., from Flickr Creative Commons.)

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