By Zoë Keown
THE SCOTTISH Government have commissioned scientists at the Sea Mammal Research Unit to carry out an investigation, after seal carcasses with mystifying “corkscrew” injuries were found washed up along the east coast of Scotland and England.
In just two months, seven incidents involving common and grey seals in St Andrews Bay and the Firth of Forth have been reported.
And with four incidents reported in Norfolk in July, and similar deaths occurring off the Canadian Atlantic coast, this problem is wider than any border.
Inconsistent with more usual fishing net or propeller injuries, the origins of the odd, smooth cut, which starts an the head and spirals around the body, are baffling, and in England, concerns have even prompted police investigation.
Calling the sequence of events “very strange,” Inspector Mike Brown, from the Norfolk Police said: “We’ve used maps of local currents and wind patterns to trace the patch of sea they must have drifted from, but there’s nothing in it.
“The obvious guess is their bodies were sliced by propellers because there’s a shipping lane nearby, but that has been there since time immemorial.
“There have been 13 post-mortems carried out, including some by specialists from Defra which have ruled out natural causes, but we don’t have a working theory.”
With Scotland’s population of common seals already in decline, the cause of death needs to be found with critical urgency.
Professor Ian Boyd, the director of the Sea Mammal Research Unit said: “We need to investigate the causes of these unfortunate deaths and how widespread the problem might be.
“This will inform any consideration of population impacts and potential mitigation.
“These deaths come on top of significant declines observed in some Scottish common seal populations.”
Dr John Baxter, the head of species management at Scottish Natural Heritage, said: “All accidental deaths of seals are a matter of concern but with the significant decline in numbers of common seals on the east coast and in the Northern Isles of Scotland in recent years this additional source of moralities is particularly unwelcome.
“It is important that the cause of these injuries and the scale of the problem are identified as soon as possible.”
Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Environment, said: “Seals form an important part of Scotland’s rich marine environment and it’s critical that we establish the cause of these strange seal deaths and do all we can to protect our seal populations.
“I would encourage any member of the public who encounters a seal carcass to contact the Sea Mammal Research Unit.”
Information about seal carcasses can be sent to the SMRU by emailing [email protected] or by calling 01334 462 630.