Where to See and Photograph Seals in Norfolk
The Best Seal Spotting Beaches
Norfolk is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including seals. Photographing seals in their natural habitat is one of the UK’s great wildlife spectacles and an unforgettable experience.
One of the rarest species of seals in the world, the UK is home to over 40% of the world’s Atlantic Grey Seals and provides a unique opportunity to view and photograph this unique and charismatic species along the Norfolk Coast. You’ll also find another species of seal on the beach, as common and grey seals happily rest on the beaches together.
In this guide, we will list where to photograph seals in Norfolk, including the beaches: Blakeney Point, Horsey Beach, Winterton-On-Sea, and Waxham.
But first…Seal Safety!
Stay on the designated paths
During pupping season, it is important to stay on the designated paths and safe viewing areas on the dunes. The wardens of Friends of Horsey Seals will help direct you for the protection of both the seals and you.
Remember they are wild animals
Seals may look peaceful and docile but please don’t be fooled. We see many clips of friendly seals playing with divers in the ocean on TV but they feel comfortable in the ocean as they can escape easily if needed. Not so on land so they’ll be much more scared and hence dangerous!
Never come between a pup and its mother
Getting too close to seal pups could lead to the mother abandoning it and never returning, leaving it to starve to death. In addition, the mother could attack you.
Beware of bull seals
Bull seals are huge, territorial, and very aggressive during breeding season, so be aware they can move much faster than you can run over a short distance, especially going downhill. You need to be minful that sometimes when trying to mate, they may follow a cow into the dunes, and then can be concealed by hollows in the terrain.
Always keep your dog on a short lead
Always put dogs on a short lead to keep both the seals and your dog safe. Seals are particularly protective of their young and will bite a dog if approached. Seals see dogs as predators.
Don’t chase seals or their pups into the water
Seal pups, while white, are not waterproof and are likely to drown if driven onto the sea. It is quite normal for adult seals to haul out and rest on land while sleeping or digesting their food.
Don’t get too close (stay at least 10m away)
The recent popularity of taking selfies has tempted some people to get far too close to seals. You should never be nearer than 10 metres. If they are disturbed, they automatically go into a flight or fight response. If threatened they might attack and bite or potentially could crush pups in their haste to get away.
By following these simple tips, you can safely observe seals during pupping season without disturbing them or putting yourself in danger. Thank you!
Blakeney Point is a stunning, unspoiled beach on the north Norfolk coast, within Blakeney National Nature Reserve, that is home to large colonies of seals. It is located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, making it a popular destination for nature lovers and photographers. Here are some tips for photographing seals at Blakeney Point:
- Viewing the seals is via a boat trip, which operates daily from one of two harbours, Morston or Blakeney, which will take you on a boat tour of the local seal colony, getting up close wihtout disturbing the animals.
- There is a National Trust car park at Morston Quay and further parking at Blakeney Carnser car park for Blakeney Quay. Check which harbour you require for the departure point for your seal trip.
- Boat trips from Blakeney Point to view the seal colonies are provided by: Temples, Beans, Bishops, Ptarmigan. Some operators are seasonal and others year round.
- Visit during the winter months to see the seal pups (November to late January). This is when the seals give birth, and from your boat trip, you can see the adorable white-furred pups next to their protective mother, playing on the sand and exploring their new surroundings.
Horsey Beach (Horsey Gap)
Horsey Beach is one of the best and most well known locations to photograph seals in Norfolk. It is located on the northeast Norfolk coast and is a popular destination for seal watching. It is family friendly, with dedicated public viewing platforms in peak breeding season, staffed by knowledgable volunteers from the Friends of Horsey Seals. Although it is one of the more accessible areas for viewing seals, the paths are sand so should be taken into account for those with mobility issues.
Here are some tips for photographing seals at Horsey Beach:
- Parking is at Horsey Gap Car Park (pay and display). It can be busy during peak times so you may wish to avoid the middle of the day (doubly so if the light is harsh with no clouds).
- Alternatively, National Trust members can park at the Horsey Windpump car park and walk the 1.5 miles to the beach.
- The light is better in the morning as in the afternoon the sun moves behind the dunes leaving the seals closest to you in shadow. The softer golden morning side light or a cloudy day to soften any harsh light is preferred.
- As you stroll along the beach, keep an eye out both for seals bobbing in the water and resting on land, especially during March and April when they haul themselves out whilst they are moulting a new coat. You can often see them from a distance, so make sure to bring your zoom lens to get a closer shot and don’t forget to never get within 10m of a seal (preferablely keep further away), or get between a seal and the ocean.
- The winter months welcomes the pupping/birthing season. The beach shore is closed but you can see the adorable pups interacting with their mother from the designated public viewing areas above in the sand dunes.
- You’ll have amazing seal watching opportunities with a telephoto lens (300mm+) or binoculars.
- Please respect the instructions of the wardens from the Friends of Horsey Seals during the pupping season. This is to protect the animals as well as you – the seals are very protective and terratorial at this time and will be aggressive. Also, mothers may abandon their pups if you get too close.
Winterton-On-Sea is a small village located on the east Norfolk coast, a short drive from Horsey Gap. It is home to a large colony of seals and is a popular destination for seal watching.
Here are some tips for photographing seals at Winterton-On-Sea:
- There is a car park next to the beach for easy access.
- During summer you can take a walk along the beach and look for seals basking on the sand.
- Please be aware that between May and early August the Little Terns breed on the beach and have an area cordoned off to help protect them.
- In the winter months, volunteers direct the public and photographers to designated viewing areas to observe the seals and their pups. Please respect their directions and understand that it is both for the seals protection and your own as within the dunes on the beach there are often testosterone-filled males filled with aggression lurking to attack any intruders. Be warned they move amazingly fast on land!
Waxham beach is a quiet and secluded beach that is home to a small colony of seals. It is located on the Norfolk coast and is a popular destination for nature lovers and photographers.
Here are some tips for photographing seals at Waxham:
- Take a walk along the beach and look for seals sunning themseles on the sand or bobbing along the water taking an interest in you. You can often see them from a distance, so make sure to bring your zoom lens to get a closer shot. As always, do not get within 10 metres…and absolutely NO SELFIES! EVER!
- Visit during the summer months to see the seals in the water. They often swim close to the shore and can provide excellent photo opportunities.
- During the winter months, access is often restricted due to their being no public viewing platform at this beach (try Horsey Beach or Winterton-on-Sea). Please exercise extreme caution and be prepared to not be able to access the beach.
- Take a break at the lovely cafe nearby, The Dunes Cafe and Waxham Barn.
Atlantic Grey Seal Facts
- Grey seal milk contains up to 50-60 % fat, ten times more than cow’s milk. This helps the pups gain weight very rapidly and develop a layer of blubber. Pups go from their birthweight of around 13kg to 45 kg in just three weeks.
- Pups are born with a white fur coat known as a “lanugo”. They moult this after they are weaned, around 3 weeks after they are born. The process of growing a shorter adult grey-coloured waterproof coat takes another 3 weeks or so.
- This white fur helps absorb sunlight and trap heat to keep the pups warm. This fur is not waterproof so the pup is at risk of cold if it gets wet. The white lanugo is also related to their evolutionary history with other ice-breeding seals.
- The pups sound surprisingly human-like as they cry for attention and milk.
- Approximately 40% of the world’s grey seals breed in the UK. Between 2,000-3000 pups are born each year at Horsey and Winterton.
- Grey seals typically return to breed and moult to one particular location and female grey seals often return to have their pups at the colony where they were born. The Norfolk coast is a favourite due to the flat, sandy beaches.
- Female grey seals only suckle pups for 17 to 23 days and then their job is done. She leaves to potentially mate again immediately, and does not return. The pups then stay behind on the beach alone for around another three weeks to moult their white coats and grow a grey waterproof one. They fast during this time, living off their fat.
- When they are ready the pups go into the sea and teach themselves to fish.
- Male seals are called bulls, female seals are cows and baby seals are pups.
- Bulls live for up to 25 years and reach sexual maturity at 6 years. Cows live for up to 35 years and start to breed at between 3 to 5 years.
- Grey seals and other pinnipeds (seals, sea lions and walruses) use highly sensitive whiskers known as mystacial vibrissae to detect fish-generated water movements when hunting in murky water with poor visibility or dark conditions.
- Seals do not spend all of their time in the sea. They need to come ashore or haul out of the water to moult, rest, digest their food, moult, or give birth and breed. Large groups of seals are called “rookeries”. Seals are warm-blooded air-breathing mammals.
- Seals can sleep on or even underwater. They can float vertically in the sea, with just their heads poking out of the water to breathe. This is known as bottling. Others can slow their heartbeat down to conserve oxygen and roll around on the seabed enjoying sleeping for up to two hours.
Testimonial From Our Seal Photography Workshop
Wildlife, Landscapes and Astrophotography
Author / Guide
Dion is an expat Australian based in London, United Kingdom, with over 12 years of photography teaching and guiding experience. A prodigious traveller, after visiting 40+ countries he decided it was high time to learn about photography so he could better document his travels and quickly caught “the bug”. He became involved in several camera clubs assisting them running workshops and now runs his own, including in the UK, Iceland, and his home country of Australia. A qualified pharmacist, he’s now swapped helping patients and teaching pharmacy students for helping clients with both the technical aspects and artistic side of photography. Although an unconventional transition, he sees this as a natural progression as both of his parents are artists who instilled in him an appreciation of the beauty of the wondrous world around us. You can view his list of his currently available photography workshops.