Grey seal pup (Ailsa Hall)

Grey seal pup (Ailsa Hall)

The Sea Mammal Reserach Unit is involved in many areas of marine mammal research and much of the work done is presented in the form of reports for funders. Links to these reports can be found below.



Scottish Natural Heritage

SNH Commissioned Report 929: 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.

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


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.

The full report is here Repnerc_mre_kep_tracking_harbour_porpoises_in_tidal_rapidsort

The appendicies are Appendix1 nerc_mre_kep_tracking_harbour_porpoises_in_tidal_rapids_appendix_1 and Appendix 2 nerc_mre_kep_tracking_harbour_porpoises_in_tidal_rapids_appendix_2.

Older Reports

A report commissioned by Marine Scotland in 2013 investigating seal depredation at Scottish fish farms.
 A report for Marine Scotland and SNH, completed in 2012, on marine mammals and salmon bag-nets.
A report for Marine Scotland and SNH, completed in 2014,  on seal diet at salmon net fisheries.
2013 annual report for the Marine Scotland and SNH sponsored project Marine Mammal Research at Wild Salmon Fisheries.
Final report to Scottish Government on entanglement of minke whales in Scottish waters (2010).