My first experience of seal-singing was on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, on the north-east coast of England.
After having been recommended the practice by a friend who lived on the island, I embraced the idea with only some trepidation. I’m not a good singer. I was feeling for the seals.
First we had to find some seals.
After making our way over to the north side of the island, and picking our way along the shore, we were delighted to come across several seals who were lounging-around on the rocks.
This was the first time we’d seen seals since our arrival in the UK. And it was pretty exciting. The only thing was that they were quite a distance away.
In addition, they were very content in staying put. They were sun baking – and sun doesn’t appear much in the north of England (so says an Aussie). If I were a seal, I would have been making the most of any opportunity as well. As we waited around to see if they’d had their fill of sunshine, we became slowly entranced by their lying around. They just lay there. Flapped a flipper around here and there. The odd seal-grunt of satisfaction. It was all simply indulgent. So simple. It sank into me – and infused throughout me – they were thoroughly enjoying just being. Questions rang in the back of my mind: when did I last do that? And, why don’t I do it more often?
Still, I had an objective. A task was before me. After having made this great discovery, I was a little disappointed that they were a bit too far away for singing. And, while there were no other people around, an untrained, warbally, loud singing voice would be the very thing to make concerned holiday-makers come running in case I was raising an alarm. So we took photos and enjoyed the spectacle, without the additional human company.
Choosing to meander further along the shore, it wasn’t too much later that we found another, smaller group of seals, who were also making the most of the sun. Except this time, they were closer in.
…Here goes. My music-aficionado partner shook his head in disbelief.
The thing is, they noticed. One, younger, more inquisitive seal was so impressed that he slid of the rock for a closer look at this singing being.
From then on we were dancing in a relationship of curiosity. Me, fascinated by the effect of my voice on the seals, and the seals, especially the young one, entranced by my voice.
I have no idea why some seals are drawn to humans singing. But they are. And from then on, whenever we toured the coasts of Scotland, my eyes were peeled for more opportunities.
There was one other time when we had a singing-seal encounter.
It was on the south-east coast of Harris, part of the distant island of Scotland which is known as the Outer Hebrides.
We were driving the coast road and my eyes scanned the countless grey rocks (of which every second looked like a grey seal), that spanned the coves. There! That’s not a rock. That there is a seal! We jumped out of the warm car and quickly rugged up in several extra layers, and then made our way to the embankment that overlooked the little beach.
This time a little group were lying around on a bed of seaweed. And this time, when I plucked up the early notes, two smaller seals slid into the water to come a little nearer.
As I searched my mind for songs or snippets of songs that I knew the words to, I was again struck by the beauty of the interaction.
Here I was, offering something to a seal (poor as the tune might be). And it was fascinated by me.
It somehow brought me onto a different level. The worries – about where we would stay that night, what we would eat for lunch, and whether we’d get to see the highlights of the island in our short visit – all vanished and it was just us and the seals, enjoying a moment. Being together. Us, them, the ocean and the sky.
Whenever I reflect on my seal-singing experiences I am filled with wonder and gratitude. And thankfulness to the woman who shared her own joy of it. Now that we’re back in Australia, I wonder whether our southern-hemisphere seals like human tunes as well. And I wonder whether I’ll ever again share such a special moment with these friendly ocean creatures.