Marine biologists from ZSL (Zoological Society of London) will be scouring the Thames Estuary for seals from today (Monday 31 July), as the international conservation charity commences its 2017 annual seal survey.
Travelling by land, sea and air, ZSL’s team will be scanning the shorelines and sandbanks of the Thames Estuary as they carry out their latest population counts for harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) and grey seals (Halichoerus grypus).
As well as monitoring seal numbers, ZSL’s conservationists will be looking for evidence of how other factors including health threats, coastal development and inter-species behaviours are affecting these marine mammal populations.
ZSL’s Estuaries and Wetlands Conservation Manager Anna Cucknell said: “Last year’s survey estimated populations of 964 harbour seals and 1,552 grey seals across the Estuary, so it will be interesting to see how these numbers have changed over the past year.
“These fantastic animals are a real wildlife highlight of the Thames but they also face serious conservation threats – from health risks like phocine distemper virus, which devastated UK seal populations in 2002; the impacts of coastal developments including construction and dredging projects in the Outer Estuary; and increasing evidence of inter-species competition for food and territory as seal numbers recover.”
The data collected from ZSL’s latest annual seal survey will feed into a new marine mammal action plan currently being devised for the Thames Estuary. Steered by ZSL in collaboration with partners including the Port of London Authority (PLA), RSPCA, Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP), British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) and Tideway, this new plan will also encompass input from emergency services experts at the Metropolitan Police Service, London Fire Brigade and Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).
As part of the action plan, members of the public will be able to access advice online on how to know if a marine mammal is healthy and fine or in need of help, and who to contact if they are worried about an animal.
Following this year’s annual seal census, ZSL’s team will also be conducting their first-ever harbour seal breeding survey of the Thames in 2018, increasing the accuracy of population estimates and shedding further light on the importance of this critical pupping habitat for the species.