New coat for designer label

Each year I try to follow at least one seal through its personal moult. This year ex rehabbed seal Rocket Dog seems to be an obvious choice as she has been identified on the mainland haul out beach several times during this crucial period. Rocket dog was rescued on 1st November 2010 so she is just over three years old. she was taken to the RSPCA Wildlife Hospital in West Hatch for rehab and transferred to Gweek for socialisation in the convalescence pool before her release back to the wild on 25/01/11.

Moulting is the process of annually renewing fur and in the case of seals the entire coat is replaced over just a few short weeks. Back in January Rocket dog had just begun moulting with a small amount of fur turning brown around her flipper pits (arm pits to you and me!). By early March, her moult had progressed as her whole coat turned brownish rather than whitish and by 03/03/14 it seemed her fore flipper pits had actually got their new fur. (It should be noted that during this time the contrast goes out of the pattern of the coats making seals harder to identify at this time)

Rocket dog on 11/01/14 with a small mount of fur breaking down and turning brown (left) : Full moult underway 03/03/14 as patterns fading (right)

On 03/03/14 Rocket Dog had appeared agitated and prior to the photo being taken above, she had been hauling all over the place, rolling in the sand, snuffling the beach with her nose and generally being a bit over active! A few days later on 07/03/14 it was obvious that Rocket dog's moult was progressing well. Her new grey and white fur was clearly visible beneath her old brown fur which still covered most of her body. As a result, it was a great surprise that when I saw her again a week later, her moult was over and done with. Her fur was back to grey and white and she proudly showed this off during a routine of lavish yawns and stretches.

Rocket dog still in full moult with new fur patches peeping through the old 07/03/14 (left) : By 15/03/14 all her old fur has gone (right)

So, Rocket dog's moult seemed to have started prior to 03/03/14 but was over by 15/03/14. Rocket dog's fur will continue to grow over the coming weeks until she is fully protected from the elements and ground. It is always assumed that seals have fur for insulation, but many marine animals don't have fur. Perhaps it is the terrestrial habit of seals that requires fur, which gives added protection from wind chill and the substrates over which they haul?

Either way, Rocket dog seems more able to settle now her moult is over for another year. To read more about a male (DP64) moulting last year click here. What is interesting it that generally females moult before males and that certainly seems true from the data CSG collect on moulting animals, but with seals it seems there are exceptions to every rule! So female Rocket dog moulted later this year than male DP64 % did last year! What was the same for both seals though, was that once it became apparent that some of the old fur was being pushed out by the new fur growing in the follicles underneath, moulting progressed very quickly. Most adult females seem to have completed their moult, so are looking particularly beautiful with the pristine new coats!

 

Cornwall Seal Group are extremely grateful to all their members who volunteer hundreds of hours of their time to photo ID and watch over the seals around the Cornish coast, especially at pup time! If you would like to support the work of Cornwall Seal Group by helping to fund surveys such as this, you can email sue@cornwallsealgroup.co.uk to arrange to send a cheque or a contribution via your bank.

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16/03/14