MARCK, France (Reuters) - Crowds of seals lie on the sand, some wriggling towards the water, on the northern French coast where they are staging a comeback.
Drone images show around 250 wild grey seals, adults and cubs, frolicking at low tide near the town of Marck.
Seals started to disappear from the Cote d'Opale in the 1970s, under pressure from fishermen who saw them as rivals for their catch.
Seals, which have no natural predators in the English Channel, have been a protected species in France since the 1980s and as a result they have begun to return to the coast.
"At low tide, they settle here to get fat, to rest and to prepare for their upcoming hunt at sea," seal enthusiast Jerome Gressier told Reuters.
According to a 2018 report of the Hauts-de-France region’s Eco-Phoques project, at least 1,100 seals now live in the area.
In the region's Baie de Somme, harbour seal numbers grew by 14.4% between 1990 and 2017, while grey seals rose by 20%, the study found.
Gressier uses a long-focus lens to identify injured seals.
"It allows us to see if there are any animals who are caught in nets," he said. "It hurts them enormously if they are caught by the neck."
Injured seals are treated at a nearby animal rescue centre in Calais.
Centre manager Christel Gressier says many of the animals they deal with are seals, some abandoned by their mothers.
"At around three weeks, the mother will quickly teach it to hunt, but if the seal is not able to manage, or do it quickly enough, she leaves and she goes about her business," she said. "It is at this moment that we can intervene for seals that would not have been able to adapt quickly enough."
(Reporting by Ardee Napolitano; Editing by Giles Elgood)