It was so camouflaged amongst the shingle that I didn't see it until I almost stepped on it. Then came the stab of shock that you get when seemingly inanimate objects reveal themselves to be living, breathing creatures, just metres away. My first instinct was to grab Ted, who had of course spotted the seal before I had, and was intuitively keeping his distance.
Mottled black and grey and curled in sleep, this seal pup was vulnerable rather than a threat, but I was careful to check around me for protective mothers who might return at any moment. Only a few days earlier, I'd heard a conversation about how threatening seals can be when protecting their young in the wild. Retreating to the next cove, I kept watch of the seal pup to check whether it was in fact perfectly content, or if it needed help and intervention. Vulnerable though it looked alone on the sand, it could just have been snoozing in a quiet spot - the beach is one of Falmouth's more remote.
With Ted bundled in my arms, I crept closer to check the pup's breathing. It was as heavy and as irregular as any mammal's can be when they are lost in a deep and dreaming sleep. WIth closed eyes, the pup didn't seem to have any awareness of our presence at the scene. As I would later tell the rescue advice team, it couldn't have been bigger than your average cocker spaniel.
Climbing our way out of the cove and up the cliff path, I kept looking back and doing a double-take - 'it's gone!' - before realising the effectiveness of the pup's blended camouflage. I had left my phone in the car after deciding that the day was too warm for a jacket, but reaching the parking at the point, I made the call to ask the Cornish Seal Sanctuary for advice, carefully describing what I'd seen and where exactly I'd seen it. They couldn't be sure from my description if the seal needed help, but planned to send out a volunteer to check anyway.
Treading the path which skirts the top of the cove, I took a photo of my seal from afar. You wouldn't have spotted it in the photo, but I knew that it was there. I watched for a while as it moved its flippers and seemed to lift its head but didn't move from the spot. I felt protective, and wanted to warn other walkers not to disturb it any further than I potentially already had, but nobody else came near.
The time came for us to go, and like so many fractions of stories that we bear witness into each day, I don't know what happened to the small seal next. No new rescues have been posted on the Seal Sanctuary website, but then it's only been half a day. Perhaps I'll walk along the cliff path tomorrow and have a peer into the cove, looking ever more carefully now that I know how elusively close our local marine mammals can be...