Scientists from international conservation charity the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have received new funding to enable study of seal deaths around the English coastline, in a bid to increase understanding of the threats facing these charismatic marine mammals.
The funding from Natural England, the government nature conservation agency, will allow ZSL’s Institute of Zoology (IoZ) to conduct an intensive six-month investigation of deceased seals recovered from around the English coast. As part of this project, the charity is also calling on the public to support this important work by continuing to report sightings of any dead seals via the national strandings hotline (0800 652 0333).
England’s seal populations are currently facing a range of potential threats, including fishing bycatch, ship-strike and entanglement in marine debris, as well as the possible risk of future outbreaks of diseases such as influenza A (H10N7) and phocine distemper virus (PDV). Recent evidence has also emerged of grey seals predating on a variety of other species, including harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) and common seals – a puzzling phenomenon that warrants further scientific investigation.
"There hasn’t been any systematic investigation of seal mortality in most parts of England since 2003, so it’s imperative that we gain a greater understanding of the threats these animals currently face in English waters,” said Rob Deaville from ZSL, who manages the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) team that will coordinate this study. "It’s also vital that the public continue to report seal strandings to our team, so that we can prioritise the recovery of bodies for post-mortem examination. This injection of funding from Natural England couldn’t have come at a more critical time," he adds.
Data recorded through this research will improve conservationists’ understanding of the current threats facing seal species in English marine waters, along with any related risks posed to our coastal ecosystems. Particular attention is expected to focus on seal colonies situated around the Wash, as well as the coast of southeast England. These regions play host to populations of both grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) and common seals (Phoca vitulina), allowing scientists to further understand interactions between these native species.
"Natural England is delighted to help ZSL undertake this essential work," comments Rebecca Walker, Natural England’s marine mammal specialist. "As part of Natural England’s role in conserving wildlife, it is vital we improve our understanding of the threats that these iconic marine mammals face. We look forward to using the results to help shape our future work preserving England’s rich marine biodiversity," she adds.
Members of the public can assist in this study by reporting any sightings of stranded dead seals via the national CSIP strandings hotline on 0800 652 0333 or via email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also log your sightings of marine mammals in the Thames, including seals, on our special interactive map.