“Biophilia” is an unproven theory, primarily associated with the American biologist Edward O Wilson, that the human organism is healthiest and most completely nourished by the presence of other life. While it might seem self-evident to some, the news streaming towards us at present includes an endless catalogue of data to the contrary.
At this glorious national nature reserve, however, one of the finest dune systems in England – a designated site, incidentally, that is itself a living statement about biophilia – there were not one but two species to suggest how the theory could be true. All around, the 150 or so grey seals sprawled at the tide edge was a lesser community of human bathers. There was a respectful self-distancing between the two, yet both beach-loving animals looked to be engaged in much the same business: taking pleasure with family or friends while the sun beat down and cooling waves lapped ashore.
There was one wonder-filled moment when a family of human bathers took to splashing in the shallows. Just beyond them, among the breakers, was an arc of upraised heads. They could have been swimmers too, but for the long-nosed, flat-topped profile to each and the way they rolled below the surface in long, fur-slicked curves. It may have been blatant anthropomorphism, but you couldn’t help but conclude that the seals were delighted by the human antics. If they were curious about us, there was no question that we were fascinated and thrilled to see them. Everyone stopped to watch the seals. Cameras were everywhere.
Throughout the colony, there were a spectrum of smiling faces and of whisker-straightening or flank-scratching behaviours. Oil-slick bodies curved upwards, muscle pulling 200kg bodies into taut upturned bridges of blubber, then the mass would collapse among much fish-breathed sighing and rheumy-eyed yawns.
From the whole herd rose a high-pitched, wind- and salt-laced song, and while intermittently there were also gnashing and growling sounds, I came to conclude that these were all part of this luxurious moment of sea, sun and seal pleasure on the beach.