Where have all our seals gone?

Cornwall’s most iconic marine mammal that attracts people to our coast all year round is a causing some concern. Lots of volunteer recorders survey seals around Cornwall’s coast in all weathers and just recently several have sent in data and asked ‘where have all our seals gone?’

Normally 90% of seals in Cornwall are found on the north coast and most of these around two key sites – North and West Cornwall. Cornwall Seal Group (CSG) were prompted to look more closely at seal numbers by an unusually low count of just three seals (compared to 40 this time last year) during their most recent boat survey organized by Polzeath Marine Conservation Group. This survey covers all of the key North Cornwall sites.

After analyzing their records from last year, it seems to CSG that the average numbers of seals counted at the West Cornwall sites are also down for every month so far this year compared to 2013.

West Cornwall summer site front left ledges... (left) : ...and far right ledges(right)
Both are usually busy with seals at this time of year. How many can you count?

May and June form transition months for Cornwall’s grey seals as they move from their moulting season, spent on mainland beaches, to their summer season where they can be found on small islands and offshore rock skerries. Sue Sayer from Cornwall Seal Group says ‘this year it seems the seals have left the beaches, but have not really started using their offshore sites as they normally would and we just don’t know why.’

'Young seals in their first couple of years are blissfully unaware of seal etiquette and don't know (or chose to break) the rules! They will rock up anywhere, sometimes in the most unexpected places. These two appeared right underneath my nose in the 'Washing Machine' area of the West Cornwall site. First a young male hauled out and he soon drew the attention of an even younger female, who joined him! A wildlife discovery like this is an awesome sight in the SW and it would be devastating to lose our iconic and much loved seals.'

A young male appears out of the blue and attracts some female attention (left) : He studiously ignores the beauty who joins him! (right)

She goes on to say that ‘the grey seals we have in Cornwall are globally rare and less in number than the African elephant for example. As such the EU has given the UK a special responsibility for protecting grey seals on behalf of the rest of the world and we have Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) set up for this purpose in the Isles of Scilly and around Lundy. There are two other SACs that seals from Cornwall are known to visit – Pembrokeshire and Brittany. Seals move between these locations, so depend upon a joined up network of sites and habitat types. Not only are seals essential for the health of our marine ecosystem, but they also bring in considerable tourist income as they are our most reliable marine mammal sighting in Cornish waters.’

Cornwall Seal Group will continue to monitor seals visiting our shores over the long term. So if you see a seal, please send your sighting to sue@cornwallsealgroup.co.uk with a date and location – photos are always a bonus, as we will aim to tell you which individual seal you have seen from its unique fur patterns. This photo ID work shows seals from Cornwall routinely visit Devon, Wales and France.

The content of this web story form a press release - higher resolution photos are available for publication on request via the email address above.


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 sue@cornwallsealgroup.co.uk to arrange to send a cheque or a contribution via your bank.

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