Carracks and St Agnes Photo Identification Project (CASPIP)
Cornwall Seal Group (CSG) have teamed up with British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) to survey seals on the north coast of Cornwall. Each month, a team of volunteer Marine Mammal Medics, most of whom are also members of CSG, head out from Hayle harbour for a full day of surveying. The tidal access of Hayle's sand bar means being out on the boat for an absolute minimum of six hours! This sounds great until it is rough as rats, blowing a gale, you need the loo or feel a bit queasy! If the sea is calm enough, we'll head out in all weathers (dictated by a low tide over midday) rain, mizzle or best of all, bright sunshine! We have been out for almost ten hours!
Sometimes it gets hard to see... (Left) : ...or the seals are just hard to see! (Right)
We record all the seals we see, both in the water and on land, as well as aiming to record their age and sex. We aim to leave all the seals hauled out, as they were when we arrived. This takes skillful boat handling following some basic rules....go slow when in proximity to seals and always travel past them parallel to the shore at a steady, slow speed without any changes to the engine sound. Oh, and we have to keep quiet too!
Sometimes the seals are hauled out on their own... (Left) : ...other times they can be seen hauled out in groups (Right)
We are beginning to get to grips with identifying at least some of the seals we see. Most of the seals we identify over more than one survey are adult females, most of whom will be pregnant, so keeping disturbance to a minimum is absolutely critical! Whilst some of these Mums have their pups locally (S31, S46 and S89), others seen here in the past (14/04/10) are known to pup much further away on Skomer in Wales (S143 Flat wm).
Carousel is an easy seal to identify (Left) : Identifying seals in the sea is tough, but W6 has been spotted twice now! (Right)
Amazingly, despite our surveys being a month apart, we sometimes see the same adult female seal on exactly the same rock in different surveys. Seals are very picky about where they haul out. We tend to assume that if we disturb them, they'll just move and haul out somewhere else. But they have favourite places that suit their needs best, so when we make them move, we are really messing up their routine for hours, days or weeks. Carousel and Cheesegrater are two female seals that have been seen twice in exactly the same place a month apart!
'Pretty little ring neck' was the first net entangled seal we saw on the surveys (Left) : Cheesegrater is an unusually dark adult female (Right)
On just one survey, up to 6% of the seals we saw were net entangled. Our intensive inshore fishery and the large amounts of storm damaged and discarded fishing net, generated locally and from as far afield as the other side of the Atlantic, make this a really problem for our highly curious seals! They get entangled as they play with rafts of net floating under the water or at the surface - just as they would play with fronds of seaweed..
'White Propeller' is blind in his right eye (Left) : Sheepdog is net entangled with a big open wound all round her neck (Right)
Of course, we see seals that have got themselves injured through interactions with humans. White propeller allegedly got hit on the head by something heavy and is now blind in one eye, as a result of being fed from boats....please never feed seals - it really causes all sort of problems for them! In 2008, he had a fishing hook in his mouth, in 2010 he got the gash on top of his head and now he is blind....probably all because he hangs round the harbour and boats! Sheepdog is one of the worst net entangled seals we've seen. We know she is surviving despite her horrid open wounds, because we first saw her in 2009 on the Isles of Scilly - she seems to commute to and from their on an annual basis!
A lobster pot line has been set up right next this haul out (Left) : A fishing boat working close to these seals' favourite haul out spot (Right)
It has surprised us just how tolerant seals are of human fishing activity. We have seen lobster lines set right next to seal haul outs and fishing boats operating within a very short distance of their favourite places. We have seen a lot of commercial and leisure activity even along this small part of the coast, which is now much more accessible than it ever was!
We've seen some fascinating seals - a juvenile common seal... (Left) : ...in some spectacular places (Right)
Of course every survey is completely different! We never know what we are going to see next. So finding another young common seal in this area was really exciting. Most of the seals we see here are grey seals (globally rarer than common seals, bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises!) Of course, Cornwall's north coast scenery is pretty amazing too, especially when it is adorned with seal jewels!
We had a bottlenose dolphin escort during one survey (Left) : Of course, we help people too, if they need us to! (Right)
All this hard work feels well rewarded with some truly amazing sightings of our beautiful grey seals. Occasionally we see other things too - dolphins move around the coast and we have been lucky enough to have an escort back to St Ives from Portreath by them! Sometimes, we have to help other people out on the water....we lifted this kite surfer and his kit, so he could be returned to Perranporth during one of our surveys.
Of course all these surveys cost money - around £120 a time. We desperately need help with funds. When money is short, surveyors not only have to volunteer their time, they have to pay for their place on the boat which covers the fuel. It takes at least a day to collate all the data and to do the photo identification of the seals we have seen. This costs around £60. If you would like to help to financially support one or more of these surveys, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss the easiest way to transfer funds.
Our report contain some amazing stories of the lives of individual seals. Click here to read the redacted reports of the May, June, July and August seal surveys. Seal site names have been removed from all reports to help protect the seals and minimise disturbance levels. We really hope you enjoy reading them.
Cornwall Seal Group are extremely grateful to all their members who volunteer hundreds of hours of their time to photo ID and watch over the seals around the Cornish coast, especially at pup time! If you would like to support the work of Cornwall Seal Group by helping to fund surveys such as this, you can email email@example.com to arrange to send a cheque or a contribution via paypal.