Our beloved seals need YOU

by ZSL on

Over the last year the Estuaries & Wetlands and Conservation Technology teams have been working to set up remote cameras at a seal haul out site on the Essex coast.

Photograph of a seal basking in the shallow water near the shore

The Greater Thames Estuary is home to both of the UK’s native seal species, the harbour seal and the grey seal.  Since the early 2000’s ZSL has been monitoring marine mammals in the Thames Estuary to gain a better understanding and help conserve these species.

To build on the knowledge we gained from our annual population surveys and our first harbour seal breading survey we have been working hard to set up a survey of a popular haul out site which will run throughout the year.

Photograph of the seal team with the pilot from the cockpit of the plane
Our seal team in the air.

Setting up cameras and getting muddy in the process

The site was identified from information gathered during the annual population surveys. It is located on the Essex coast and has a lot of sheltered creeks and intertidal areas for seals to haul out onto. The site is protected through several designations, including being classified as a National nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.


Arial photograph of many seals lounging on the shore close to the water's edge
One of our survey photos of a seal 'haul out site' from last year's seal breeding survey. We match these photographs with waypoints, double and triple check the count, and we can create a map of seal distributions in the area.

Photograph of Ken on the boat, wearing waders and covered in mud.
The amount of mud is directly correlated with how much you love seals. Ken, our Thames Project Manager, evidently LOVES seals.
Accessing the site is a challenge but with help from a nature warden from Tendring District Council and his boat we have been able to visit the site several times to set the cameras up.

The boat might allow us to get to the site, but we still need to wade across the muddy foreshore to access the cameras and occasionally it doesn’t go to plan.

The cameras have been left out in all weather on this coastal location which has thrown up a few challenges, including freak high tides and seagulls using the aerials as perches. 


We were finally able to launch the project on ZSL’s Instant Wild in February, allowing us to harness 'people power' to work through and ID the species captured in our images.  It’s not too late for you to help out, Instant Wild can be accessed via the web and also downloaded as an app, just log into the project and start IDing species . 

The goal of the survey is to understand how seals use a haul-out site throughout the year, hauling out is the behaviour of seals temporarily leaving the water and coming ashore. We know that seals do this for many reasons, including to rest, breed and moult but we don’t know if usage changes with the seasons, or other factors such as weather and time of day.

Get tagging now! 

Written by Kenneth Obbard, Thames Project Manager

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