Survey Provides Insights Into Scilly’s Grey Seal Population

sealsA regular survey of grey seals on our islands shows that their numbers appear stable from as far back as the 1930s.

The research, carried out by Sue Sayer and Kate Hockley of the Cornwall Sea Group, with local dive operator Dave McBride, shows that the seal population here and around Cornwall remained constant between the two most recent counts, in 2005 and 2010.

But Sue says this past season is likely to have been extremely challenging for seals and their pups.

The group have been trying to carry out a further survey around the islands since October but have not had the two-day calm sea window to do this. She says if the researchers have been affected, then the seals will have been too.

Sue says the seal populations in Scilly are a key wildlife attraction for visitors to the islands and only a detailed understanding of the habits of these specific seals can ensure their continued survival.

And the surveys provide important to boatmen to share with their customers. There are fourteen key ‘iconic’ individual seals to look out for and who are easy to recognise says Sue. These were re-identified from the Scilly photo catalogue. One seal was also seen in Cornwall and one heavily pregnant female was identified from the Skomer survey, suggesting movement of seals between these areas.

For the future the Seal Group are keen to carry out more dedicated seal photo identification work in the islands, says Sue.

Natural England funds the surveys of pups in Scilly every five or six years, the minimum amount allowable under the Habitats Regulations.

But Sue says neighbouring conservation areas, such as Pembrokeshire, do this annually.

She warned that infrequent surveys mean that if something was happening to our seal population, by the time we find out, it will probably be too late.