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Scottish Government Reports

harbour seals on sand

Marine Mammal Scientific Support Research Programme - Phase II

Scottish Government are currently  funding a major strategic marine mammal research project to provide advice to Scottish Ministers and stakeholders across a range of key marine policy areas (the Marine Mammal Scientific Support Programme).  The programme comprises three major themes: Marine renewable energy, harbour seal decline and seal and salmon interactions.

The Annual Reports on Progress under each theme were published at the end of the first year of the programme (April 2016) and can be found at the following links:

  • Marine Renewable Energy
  • Harbour Seal Decline
  • Seal and Salmon Interactions

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Marine Mammal Scientific Support Programme - Phase I (2012 - 2015)

In 2015 SMRU completed phase I of a  major strategic marine mammal research project funded by the Scottish Government, with additional support from Scottish National Heritage (SNH), which provides advice to Scottish Ministers and stakeholders across a range of key marine policy areas (the Marine Mammal Scientific Support Research Programme MMSS/001/11). The programme comprised four major themes: Marine renewable energy, harbour seal decline, unexplained seal deaths, and seal and salmon interactions.

A summary of the major findings can be found here.

To complete the research SMRU worked with a number of collaborating organisations, including the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS).

The final reports associated with this research programme can be found below. The Executive Summary from each report can be viewed separately and the reports downloaded as PDFs.

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Marine Renewable Energy

windmills on the Thornton Bank

Windmills D1-D4 (Thornton Bank) © Hans Hillewaert / CC-BY-SA-4.0

The focus of this research theme was the possible impact of offshore marine renewable energy developments on marine mammals. Potential interactions between seals and cetaceans and various tidal, wind and wave devices were evaluated. An investigation into suitable mitigation measures was also included. This project recognised the need to progressively improve both marine mammal assessment and monitoring methods as well as management approaches to help minimise any apparent adverse effects.

  • MR1 & 2 Mapping out the current marine renewables research landscape and an assessment of the data gaps with regards to marine mammals

    Current state of knowledge of effects of offshore renewable energy generation devices on marine mammals & research requirements. Update, September 2014

    Report    Summary
     
  • MR 3 Developing methods for tracking the fine scale underwater movements of marine mammals around tidal devices

    Methods for tracking fine scale underwater movements of marine mammals around marine tidal devices

    Report    Summary
     
  • MR 4 Advising regulators and regulatory bodies on specific issues relating to marine renewable energy devices as they arise

    Provision of an advice function to support regulators and appropriate regulatory bodies on matters concerning marine mammals

    Report    Summary
     
  • MR 5 Grey and harbour seal density maps

    Grey and harbour seal density maps

    Report    Summary
     
  • MR 5.1 At-sea usage and activity

    At-sea usage and activity

    Report    Summary
     
  • MR 5.2 Activity classification using state space modelling

    Activity classification using state space modelling

    Report    Summary
     
  • MR 5.4 Inter-haul-out transition rates

    Inter-haul-out transition rates

    Report    Summary
     
  • MR 6.1 Review of methodology and main results of the JCP analysis of cetacean densities in the context of marine renewable development

    Review of methodology and main results of the JCP analysis of cetacean densities in the context of marine renewable development

    Report    Summary
     
  • MR 6.2 Definition of "range" in the context of marine renewable energy development and marine mammal conservation

    Definition of "range" in the context of marine renewable energy development and marine mammal conservation

    Report    Summary
     
  • MR 7.1.1 Quantifying porpoise depth distributions and underwater behaviour in tidal rapids areas

    Quantifying porpoise depth distributions and underwater behaviour in tidal rapids areas

    Report    Summary
     
  • MR 7.1.2 The density and behaviour of marine mammals in tidal rapids

    The density and behaviour of marine mammals in tidal rapids

    Report    Summary
     
  • MR 7.2.1 Collision Risk: a brief review of available information on behaviour of mammals and birds in high tidal energy areas

    Collision Risk: a brief review of available information on behaviour of mammals and birds in high tidal energy area

    Report    Summary
     
  • MR 7.2.2 Collision risk and impact study: Examination of models for estimating the risk of collisions between seals and tidal turbines

    Collision risk and impact study: Examination of models for estimating the risk of collisions between seals and tidal turbines

    Report    Summary
     
  • MR 7.2.3 Collision risk and impact study: Field tests of turbine blade-seal carcass collisions

    Collision risk and impact study: Field tests of turbine blade-seal carcass collisions

    Report    Summary
     
  • MR 8.1 Tests of acoustic signals for aversive sound mitigation with harbour seals

    Tests of acoustic signals for aversive sound mitigation with harbour seals

    Report    Summary
     
  • MR 8.2 Sound Exposure Explorer Tool Manual

    Sound Exposure Explorer Tool Manual

    Report    Summary
     

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Harbour* Seal Decline

*Also known as common

harbour seal

Significant declines in many harbour seal populations on the east and north coasts of Scotland were first identified following aerial surveys carried out in 2006. The numbers of animals hauled out on land during their annual moult in August are counted by the SMRU. The dramatic reduction in the number of animals seen during these counts has caused concern, particularly in Shetland and Orkney where up to 60% of the animals have been lost and in the Firth of Tay where over a 90% decline in numbers has been observed.

This research theme provided an update on the potential causes of the decline and priorities for future research; discussed management and potential mitigation options; determined the diet of Scottish common compared to grey seals (whose populations in Scotland are not declining) and investigated the dynamics of the common seal populations using a modelling and risk assessment approach.

  • CSD 1 Review of the status, trends and potential causes for the decline in abundance of harbour seals around the coast of Scotland

    Review of the status, trends and potential causes for the decline in abundance of harbour seals around the coast of Scotland

    Report    No summary is available
     
  • CSD 1.2 & CSD 2 Workshop report on decline in abundance of harbour seals around the coast of Scotland and discussion of mitigation and management measures

    Workshop report on decline in abundance of harbour seals around the coast of Scotland and discussion of mitigation and management measures

    Report    No summary is available
     
  • CSD 3.1 Improved estimates of digestion correction factors and passage rates for harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) prey

    Improved estimates of digestion correction factors and passage rates for harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) prey

    Report    Summary
     
  • CSD 3.2 Harbour Seal Diet Composition and Diversity

    Harbour Seal Diet Composition and Diversity

    Report    Summary
     
  • CSD 3.3 Grey Seal Diet Composition and Prey Consumption

    Grey Seal Diet Composition and Prey Consumption

    Report    Summary
     
  • CSD 3.4 Comparing the Diet of Harbour and Grey Seals in Scotland and Eastern England

    Comparing the Diet of Harbour and Grey Seals in Scotland and Eastern England

    Report    Summary
     
  • CSD 4 Harbour seal decline: population modelling

    Harbour seal decline: population modelling

    Report    Summary
     
  • CSD 5 Changes in at-sea foraging trips of harbour seals and grey seals in south-east Scotland

    Changes in at-sea foraging trips of harbour seals and grey seals in south-east Scotland

    Report    Summary
     
  • CSD 6 Harbour seal decline workshop II, 24th April, 2014

    Harbour seal decline workshop II, 24th April, 2014

    Report    Summary
     

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Unusual Seal Deaths

spiral seal photo

Significant numbers of harbour seal and some grey seal carcasses showing unusual injuries have been washing ashore at sites around the UK, many along the east coast of Scotland. The carcasses have a characteristic single, smooth-edged cut starting at the head and spiralling around the body. These trauma injuries are not consistent with any previously identified causes of death such as entanglement in fishing nets or boat propeller strikes.

This project set out to identify the mechanism(s) involved in these unexplained seal mortality events; to assess the extent and level of seal mortality due to these mechanisms and the implications for the viability of the local seal populations.

  • Updated USD 1 & USD 6 Current state of knowledge of the extent, causes and population effects of unusual mortality events in Scottish seals

    Current state of knowledge of the extent, causes and population effects of unusual mortality events in Scottish seals

    Report    Summary
     
  • Addendum to Updated USD 1 & 6

    Preliminary report on predation by adult grey seals on grey seal pups as a possible explanation for corkscrew injury patterns seen in the unexplained seal deaths: addendum

    Report    Summary
     
  • USD 2 Testing the hypothetical link between shipping and unexplained seal deaths

    Testing the hypothetical link between shipping and unexplained seal deaths

    Report    Summary
     
  • USD 3 Testing the hypothetical reasons for inappropriate responses to the candidate mechanisms for the unexplained seal deaths

    Testing the hypothetical reasons for inappropriate responses to the candidate mechanisms for the unexplained seal deaths

    Report    Summary
     
  • USD 4 Examining the distribution of observed carcasses to identify biological and oceanographic patterns and distribution of potential causes to assess the patterns of risk associated with these unexplained seal deaths

    Examining the distribution of observed carcasses to identify biological and oceanographic patterns and distribution of potential causes to assess the patterns of risk associated with these unexplained seal deaths

    Report    Summary
     
  • USD 5 Assessing the impact of the observed and estimated levels of mortality on seal populations at a local, national and international level

    Assessing the impact of the observed and estimated levels of mortality on seal populations at a local, national and international level

    Report    Summary
     
  • Significant numbers of harbour seal and some grey seal carcasses showing unusual injuries have been washing ashore at sites around the UK, many along the east coast of Scotland. The carcasses have a characteristic single, smooth-edged cut starting at the head and spiralling around the body. These trauma injuries are not consistent with any previously identified causes of death such as entanglement in fishing nets or boat propeller strikes.

    This project set out to identify the mechanism(s) involved in these unexplained seal mortality events; to assess the extent and level of seal mortality due to these mechanisms and the implications for the viability of the local seal populations.

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Seals and Salmon Interactions

seal taking salmon from net

There is a long history of conflict between salmon fisheries and seals due to highly visible damage to fish or observed depredation (seals removing fish from nets), leading to a widespread belief among fishermen that seals adversely affect both salmon stocks and landings. Until recently, this conflict was often resolved by shooting individual seals. Since 2010, however, shooting has only been allowed in Scotland under licence to protect fish and fishing gear from seals. While non-lethal measures are preferred, these are still not effective in all cases and the option of killing should now be seen as a last resort.

The objectives of this study were therefore to investigate the effectiveness of acoustic deterrent devices (ADDs) and the modification of salmon nets to mitigate the effects of seals on these fisheries; to collect seal carcases for dietary analysis and provide scientific support to the district salmon fishery boards (DSFBs).

  • SSI Seals and wild salmon fisheries

  • Seals and wild salmon fisheries
  • Report    Summary

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Other Reports for Scottish Government

  • Seal Haul-out Site Designation

    Scottish legislation requires the designation of key seal haul-out sites in Scotland, at which seals are protected from intentional or reckless harassment. SMRU was tasked by the Scottish Government to develop a method for selecting these key sites. The following report describes the process used to identify and select designated seal haul-out sites using SMRU aerial survey data.

    Method used to identify and select key seal haul-out sites

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Other Reports

CR929: Surveys of harbour and grey seals on the south-east (border to Aberlady Bay) and south-west (Sound of Jura to Solway Firth) coasts of Scotland, in Shetland, in the Moray Firth and in the Firth of Tay in August 2015

The survey in August 2015 of harbour and grey seals was part of the ongoing programme of surveys commissioned by SNH in collaboration with the Sea Mammal Research Unit at St Andrews University.  The survey covered Shetland, the south-east and south-west coasts of Scotland as well as the Moray Firth and Firth of Tay.  The survey in Shetland was the first for 6 years and the number of harbour seals counted in 2015 (3369) was very similar to that in 2009 (3039).  In south-west Scotland the number has increased since they were last counted; with 7645 recorded in 2014/2015 compared to 5930 in 2007/2009.  This scale of increase has been observed all along the west coast of Scotland.  In contract numbers on the east coast remain very depressed with only 60 harbour seals recorded in the Firth of Tay around 10% of what was recorded in 1997, whilst the number in the Moray Firth in 2015 was 745, very similar to 2007/2009 (776) but down considerably on the 1997 of 1409.  Grey seals are counted at the same time but these numbers are highly variable but do show the distribution of animals around the coast.

A copy of the report can be found here

Further surveys will be undertaken in 2016, namely Orkney and the east coast of Scotland and the results of these surveys will be reported in due course.

  • NERC Knowledge Exchange: An Autonomous Device to Track Porpoise Movements in Tidal Rapids

    In 2012 SMRU began developing technology to track the underwater movements of harbour porpoises in tidal rapids to help better understand the risk that the deployment and operation of tidal turbines might pose. Over the years we developed a passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) system which could be deployed from a drifting boat and provides fine scale geo-referenced tracks of harbour porpoises. This has greatly improved our understanding of how animals behave in tidal rapid areas, however the technology required to build our drifting PAM system and the expertise to run it meant the technology was not accessible to consultancies or industry. In 2013 SMRU was awarded a NERC Knowledge exchange grant to further develop this fine scale tracking technology to make it more accessible to the wider community and using this we created PLABuoy (porpoise locating array buoy), which is a cheaper, safer, autonomous alternative to our boat based drifting PAM system.

    Report   Appendix1   Appendix2
     
  • SNH Commissioned Report 894: Harbour seal haul-out monitoring, Sound of Islay

    This report provides an overview of the current techniques available for monitoring seal haul-out sites with a particular focus on those at the Sound of Islay. It describes the results of boat based disturbance trials undertaken at selected, non-designated, haul-out sites in the Sound, using time-lapse photography and telemetry to track subsequent seal movements. Based on this, a simple, time lapse photography based method of haul-out monitoring is described that should provide sufficient information to identify and characterise any boat based disturbance events. Though based upon haul-outs within the Sound of Islay, the approach described may be readily adapted and employed elsewhere.

    Report    SNH page
     

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26/09/2016
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