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Declining harbour seal numbers in Northern Britain

Populations of harbour seals in Orkney and Shetland have suffered an as yet unexplained decline of about 40% over the past five years, according to new research carried out by the Sea Mammal Research Unit, University of St Andrews.

The results of the study, due to be published in the Journal of Zoology, come from long-term monitoring of seal populations.

Declines have also occurred in the Firth of Tay and additional evidence from Eastern England suggests similar changes may be occurring there. The west coast of Scotland does not however appear to be affected in the same way.

Professor Ian Boyd, Director of the Sea Mammal Research Unit at St Andrews, said:

“Further work needs to be done to confirm the scale of the declines that have been detected but an apparent decline of 40% in five years is a cause of considerable concern.

“These are long-lived animals and this level of decline represents a loss of about 10% of the seals each year. We have no evidence that there has been a short-term, catastrophic event, like an epidemic, but we retain an open mind about what might be the cause.

“It is not possible to suggest, at present, a plausible explanation for this reduction in common seal numbers. It is also unclear whether this reduction is a short term or longer term phenomenon.”

Marion O'Sullivan | alfa
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