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Respect & Welfare first at all times...!!!

09th October 2014
This article is the full article that i wrote for the East Riding Mail Newspaper.. What this is really about is RESPECTING your subject and putting the WELFARE of wildlife first before any image...!!!

The Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) by MarieLianne Warwick..

Its 3.30am on a Sunday morning and I’m crawling out of bed, although I’ve been lying awake excitedly watching the minutes tick by for over an hour already..!! Who is this crazy to be getting out of bed early on a Sunday morning? Well for one, Wildlife Photographers & I happen to be one of them. Am I MAD? Well yes maybe, but I like to regard myself as a committed & dedicated photographer, but First and Foremost I’m passionate about my subjects and Wildlife in general, add a dash of craziness and you have the photographer personified.…

With my camera gear all packed, car loaded, I then set off to meet my fellow photographer and my good friend Tracey Lund (who is passionate about wildlife just as much as me), then its full steam ahead in the direction of the Lincolnshire Coast. With the environment that we were going into to photograph the Seals I had to be prepared for everything, sand in your camera equipment is the last thing I needed and it’s probably every photographer’s worse nightmare. The sound of your zoom lens grinding & crunching when you put it away is like scratching nails down a chalk board, it’s excruciatingly painful to listen to..!!

We arrived at 6.30am, a wee bit before sunrise, met up with our fellow photographers Neil and Dean then headed out on foot towards the mud flats where the Grey Seals were going to be and after a good 30 mins of a steady walking pace we start to hear the calls of Seals in the distance. The wind was picking up the further we walked out and the mud was turning to dry sand, we felt like we were being sandblasted. But later on that morning as the sands dried even more, it was quickly starting to resemble a desert scene rather than the Lincolnshire Coast..

Closing on the Seals we ditched our bags and prepared our camera equipment, mainly covering up the lenses to keep out as much sand as possible. Ready to go, we approached slowly and then retreated to the ground, lying flat and crawling literally a few inches at a time. You can’t approach them standing up you’ll just frighten them off; this is all about stealth and taking your time. Being down on the ground you are in a better position for photographing your subject as you are at eye level, the Seals still know you are there but you are less intimidating to them. Also having telephoto lenses there is no need to get too close, there have been incidents in the past of people taking compact cameras and getting too close to the seals or taking wide angle lenses which means you have to get extremely close them, this is totally unacceptable. I follow a very strict Nature photographer’s code of Practice; all my subjects come first before any image, (“The welfare of the subject is more important than the photograph.”) prize winning or not…. Others have also reported seeing people physically dragging or kicking young Seals into better positions or dragging pups away from their mothers, this makes me very angry and if I catch anyone acting in this manor they will be duly reported to the appropriate authorities.. Fortunately this does not happen often but it shouldn't happen at all, to me these people should be ashamed of themselves and in my book do not hold the right to call themselves wildlife photographers..!!!

Hundreds if not a few thousand seals line the Lincolnshire Coastline, but in a couple of weeks’ time until late December the cows (Female seals) will be heading inland to give birth to their Pups. The Pups are born with a beautiful soft and silky white/creamy thick fur and will be fully dependent on their mother’s rich fat milk for about a month, after this time they will start to moult and will then grow a water-proof adult fur. All the time the mothers are feeding their pups they don’t leave their sides (or at least are not too far away) and they do not feed themselves, they can drop about 40% of their body weight in this time. Whilst on shore the Cows also have to protect their pups from any mishaps, like Bull’s fighting as they come ashore to mate or other females that get too close to their pups, some pups get in the way and are sadly injured or killed. Seals will mate about 3 weeks or so after giving birth and then head back out to sea to feed as by this time they are starving..

The Seal you can see in my images is a youngster, one of last year’s pups. It was quite aware of our presence but was very relaxed and comfortable with us being there, I wasn't too close and I kept all movement to a minimum so I could study and watch this young seals natural behaviour. It’s such a special and wonderful feeling to be able to watch wildlife at close quarters like this, it’s a privilege really, to be allowed, to be, excepted by something that is so precious and trusting of you.
Whilst lying flat on the wet sands exposed to all the elements I was oblivious to what else was around me I lost myself in the moment, that’s what I do. I block out the outside world and immerse myself in the emotional moment between me and my subject, waiting for that magical connection, it could be a fleeting moment it could last minutes but when it hits you, you soak it up like a ray of sunshine flooding your whole being, your whole soul.. The Seal has acknowledged me, my reward for all the hard work and patience I put in to capture beautiful images.

The tide was on the turn the light was fading fast so it was time to pack up and leave these wonderful animals and make the long walk back to the car park. Trying to pack our cameras away into our bags with sand gusting around us was a bit of a laugh really, there was going to be some serious cleaning on our return to get rid of every grain of sand… But, the smiles on our faces, the state of our clothes, our aching muscles and several filled memory cards told the story of two very happy photographers that had a wonderful encounter with wildlife, which at the end of the day is what it is all about. We have some amazing wildlife in the UK and around the world, if I only get to witness half of it in my lifetime it would have been time well spent and I’ve lived a life worth living…!!
(Quote) “When I look into the eyes of an animal I do not see an animal. I see a living being, I see a friend. I feel a soul.”
A D Williams

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