Saturday, 29 December 2012

Young seals having a hard time on the May

A bit of an update on what is happening to the young seals on the island. 
Young seals have a tough time of the island. Of the 2000 pups born every year over 200 die before they reach an age to leave the island. A PhD project currently under way is looking at what those reasons are. In some places on the island the density of adults and pups is very high and it is possible that with all the closely packed animals disease and infects are more easily passed to each other. Above is a pup, one of the last, on Pilgrims Haven which has some of the greatest densities of seals in breeding time. You can seen the amount of kelp, driftwood and rubbish that gets washed up that only compounds the problem.
But there is another problem that young grey seals are facing on the island but the cause is a mystery. This breeding season 10 recently weaned pups have been washed up dead with horrific but distinctive wounds. They all have huge spiral injuries that start at the head and corkscrew round the torso. I found this pup washed up the day I went out and a closer look at its back flipper showed that it was an Isle of May animal that had been tagged by the seal researchers. Ross, one of the seal researchers is currently carrying out a research project to find out why these seals are dying. The Isle of May isn't the only place where dead seals with these injuries have been found, they are turning up all along the east cost of the UK. One possible reason is that the seals are getting caught in ship propellers of a certain type but as yet this is only one theory and there is no actual evidence of this.
One thing it does show is the importance of places like the Isle of May where, when a problem like this arises the island can support vital research to answer questions. More information is available on the following link,

Meanwhile the last of the weaners lie on the island living off their fat reserves before they head out to sea to learn fast the skills of catching fish and surviving out in the sea. The one above is fast asleep, the one below is one that didn't make it.

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