The grey seal colony which occupies the Farne islands of Northumbria makes it an excellent location to go diving with seals in the wild. There are plenty of dive boats competing to take snorkelers and divers from the harbour at Seahouses. As well as the 1,000 seal pups being born every autumn, the islands are home to 37,000 seasonal puffin pairs and offers several of wrecks to dive.
To save on money on renting gear, we attempted a 1 day trip from Glasgow. After a very early start, we made it to the quay with plenty of time to spare. After loading the boat we set out on the short passage to the Farne islands. The conditions were perfect, very still, no swell and the sun was burning its way through a layer of early morning cloud. A pod of porpoises passed through our wash and gannets glided across the mirrored water. It wasn’t long until we could see the heads of seals bobbing in the water.
After arriving at the east side of Longstone we entered the water close to shore and swam south following the coast. Despite the good visibility we saw nothing. After 5 minutes I was beginning to wonder if there were any seals at all. We followed a gully further towards the shore. It wasn’t until we got shallower that I noticed a mother and her pup watching us from a distance. Two young seals were less cautious, after several minutes they were completely comfortable with us. They like to sneak up behind you, roll about and then dart off. More seals appeared and it wasn’t long before we were well out numbered.
The younger seals pulled on our fins and tugged at our BCDs, some of them would even roll over and let you rub their bellies. They really are like water proof dogs. I only saw one older seal demonstrate any aggression. After making an under water barking noise it gave a good yank on my dry suit and swam off. In general the seals were pretty happy to interact although you should never chase or try to corner them. They are inquisitive and friendly, let them come to you. After we surfaced they still wouldn’t leave us alone. It was a long swim out to a depth that the boat could collect us from and the whole way we were escorted by 30 seals +, all intent on stealing our fins. They were especially interested in the SMB, I’ve heard they often pop them though so be careful.
We had to drive a bit on the quick side to make it back to Glasgow to return out kit in time. Luckily the kind folks at aquatron stayed open a little late for us but I would say scuba kit was not really necessary. The best place to dive with seals was less than 5 meters and the scuba kit was restricting in the shallows. If you are planning on taking scuba kit, take a dry suit. Next time I hope to kayak there with my free diving kit and see if I can’t be a bit more seal like.