Thursday, 30 May 2013

A different seal

Keith Brockie was on the island last week and found a very unusual visitor, a common or harbour seal, not the grey seal normally found on the island.  Though they live a breed as close as Tentsmuir Point which is just round the corner of Fife Ness to the north they very rarely make it out to the island. So Keith's sighting was a special one.
But what made it even more special was this seal has a history.  The Sea Mammal Research Unit based at St. Andrews have been fitting loggers onto seals by attaching them behind their necks. This particular seal that goes by the name of 73363 had its logger fitted on 12 April at Kinghorn in Fife. These bits of kit cause no problems to the seals but generate valuable information about just where these seals go.  However there is a problem with 73363's logger so that though it is logging data, a glitch in the software is stopping it from transmitting the data back to the scientists. But all is not lost because these scientists now have ways of identifying individual seals by photographing the pelage or fur coat of the seal and using a computer programme to log the distinctive individual pattern. Then if a seal is photographed they can run the photo of the pattern through the computer and identify the seal. It turns out that 73363 has not been resighted since it was caught so Keith's sighting and more importantly his photograph are a vital piece of information to plot the travel of this seal.  Harbour seals are a declining species and so the more that can be found out about their life history the better chance of carrying out measures that will safeguard the species.
So if you see a seal with a gadget stuck to it, try to get a photograph of the side of the body and send it to the Sea Mammal Research Unit. Meanwhile we will be keeping an eye open to see if 73363 hangs about the island.And maybe at some later date 73363 might get caught again and then the full story of its travels can be downloaded from the logger.
Many thanks to Keith and Callan at SMRU for sharing the photographs and the information.

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