The tour boat has now rounded the northeastern tip of Ciboux Island and entered the more placid waters on the western side of Ciboux Island, sheltered by the island itself from the waves rolling in off the Atlantic Ocean, very visible in photo #1. Note that the hazy far shore no longer shows the Cape Breton Highlands; instead, one sees at the far left of the photo the high headland of Point Aconi (magnification of the original resolves the ghostly bump at its top into its lighthouse and the adjacent white building). To the left of Point Aconi lies the northern coast of Cape Breton County and to the right one sees the northern coast of Boularderie Island.
The rift in the rocks, quite noticeable in photo #1, was rather less so in photo #4 on the previous page, but here is very clear. Sitting on the rocks at the left of the photo is the only bird I see (other than the two (one conspicuous and one but a dot) in the air): I’m not certain, but it looks to me very much like a Canada goose. But it is the grey seals that immediately take the eye. How many do you see?
Photo #2 is an expanded detail of photo #1. I count seven seals on the rocks (if you see only six, as I did at first, look behind the two rightmost seals and you will see the body and head of the seventh) plus two more in the water, for a total of nine. The seal seen in photo #4 on the previous page is well to the left of this group on the other side of the rocks, outside the scope of this photo; it is, perhaps, a younger male (see below).
Photo #3 shows a seal with its head well out of the water swimming a bit further south along the shore; in photo #4, three seals, one recumbent and two swimming, are yet further south. We were to see many more on the rocks and in the waters along both islands as we slowly moved south (except for the one on the previous page, they seem to have preferred the western side of the islands).
Grey seals, particularly those in the western Atlantic, are large animals. Their scientific (binomial) name, Halichoerus grypus, translates as a “hooked-nosed sea pig”, a description I find neither particularly apt nor very appealing. The males are from 2.5–3.3 m (8.2–11 ft) long and can weigh as much as 400 kg (880 lb); the females are typically smaller, from 1.6–2.0 m (5.2–6.6 ft) and can reach 250 kg (550 lb). Males are generally darker than females, but have lighter patches; females vary in colour from silver grey to brown, but have darker patches. Our tour guide had a simpler way to distinguish the two: just look for the ones with the big heads—those are the males!
Like deer, male grey seals compete for breeding rights, forming harems of multiple females. Gestation varies from ten to twelve months and the pups, born with a dense, soft, silky white fur, are weaned about three weeks after birth, having gotten plump on their mothers’ fat-rich milk; they quickly shed their white fur and grow their dense waterproof adult fur, after which they soon leave for the sea to feed themselves. Once their pups are weaned, the adult females breed again. Females begin breeding at three to five years old; while males are ready to breed at four to eight years old, they rarely do so before they are ten years old due to competition with older males. In the wild, males live to 30 years of age, while females can live to 40 years of age.
Grey seals feed on a wide variety of fish and can dive to depths of 70 m (230 ft) to catch them; sand eels are also important in their diet. They are opportunistic diners, and will eat whatever is available, including octopus and lobster. On average, each one needs 5 kg (11 lb) of food a day, though they do not eat every day and they fast during breeding season.¹
¹ This information of grey seals comes largely from this Wikipedia article and this Smithsonian web page. I have incorporated some wording from both sources without using quote marks.↩