22 July 2010

The Shorkneys: Singing to Seals in Orkney and Shetland

(Note: "Shorkney" is not a real word. We're just using it to write about our recent trip to Aberdeen, Orkney, and Shetland.)

We're going a bit nuts over here at the Educated Burgher, what with all the dissertating and moving to Japan (so soon!). . . which is a bad thing, when you're as nuts as the two of us are to begin with.

Case in point:

Nothing like putting your toes in the North Sea, folks!

But that's not all--we spent a shamefully large portion of our trip singing to seals.
You see, Orkney and Shetland have a ton of the critters, and they're super curious little guys. Any time you're walking along the water (which is pretty much all the time in Orkney and Shetland), you're likely to see at least one of their little heads popping up, watching the strange world of the shore pass them by. They seem especially curious about dogs, probably because they look so much like dogs themselves.

(In fact, the German word for seal is "seehund," or "sea dog." You can tell why from this Wikipedia photo of a harbor seal, one of two species found in the Shorkneys.)
Anyway, the seals are apparently attracted to human voices, and especially human singing. So, naturally, when confronted with a lone seal in the Kirkwall harbor late at night (yes, late at night), Nana's first instinct was to belt out an a capella rendition of "Kiss From a Rose." (The seal is the little black dot in the background.)

Unfortunately, the seal promptly swam away, and our impromptu cover of "Hey Seal" (to the tune of "Hey Jude") met with similar scorn.

We had some more luck in Shetland, where a little family of seals was hanging out in a broad bay we were walking by just south of Lerwick. I assume they were there to watch the dogs passing on the trail. (Again, seals = black dots.)
Then again, it could just mean that seals like Aretha Franklin ("Chain of Seals") more than Seal or the Beatles. But given the very unscientific nature of our study, I would hesitate to draw any firm conclusions.

Bonus: What's the difference between a seal and a sea lion? Basically, true seals spend more time in the water, have no external ears, and short flippers which make them pretty much useless on land.

In contrast, sea lions (and the closely related, but misleadingly named fur seals) have small ear flaps and longer flippers. Sea lions can actually move pretty well on land, with a posture similar to that of a very large and very clumsy dachshund. This combination of cuteness and dexterity probably explains why sea lions the ones you find doing shows at Sea World.

Seals, on the other hand, are pretty much limited to flopping around on their fat stomachs. Hilarious, but not not much acting range. Kind of like Jack Black.


  1. We don't have "harbour seals" in Orkney and Shetland (or Scotland!). We have common seals and grey seals.

  2. I thought they were the same thing . . . ? Wikipedia seems to think so, too.


  3. Perhaps they would have preferred to hear Bobby Vinton drone a song and seal it with a kiss. They are, after all sitting in that icy water and facing what must seem to them like a Long Lonely Summer.