Monthly Archives: May 2016

Visit to Dunvegan Loch seals

At the start of May I headed up to Isle of Skye to meet with Andy, who is going to be in charge of conducting the photo-ID trips at Loch Dunvegan this summer. To do so, we are collaborating with the Dunvegan Castle seal boat trips team, who run regular boat trips to see the seals (mainly common seals) hauled out at the nearby small rocky islands of Loch Dunvegan. The traditionally built clinker boats can get within a few meters of the seals without disturbing them as seals are used to having them close by.


Common seals sunbathing in Loch Dunvegan

dunvegan track

Track of the boat on one of the trips

We arrived at Dunvegan Castle (which is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland!) as doors were opening to the public, and headed down to the pier below the castle, where Colin, one of the boat skippers, was waiting for us. We were very lucky with the weather and seemed to catch the only dry weather window of the long weekend as we made our way to photograph the seals.



Sleepy seal in Loch Dunvegan

Getting so close to the seals means the quality of the photographs is exceptional, so we expect lots of great data coming out of Loch Dunvegan this summer. Andy will go out on the boat a couple of days every week and photograph as many seals as possible as the boat goes around the skerries. On a single trip he may encounter over 100 seals, which means long hours in front of the computer trying to identify and match each seal based on the pelage pattern.

As we approach the end of May we are getting closer to the start of the pupping season for common seals. It is still too early to see any pups, but we can already see big females that look very pregnant. Check this seal on the photograph below, with that extra belly resting in the water. Hopefully we will see her with a new pup in a few weeks.


Possibly pregnant female common seal

Written by Monica





First trip of 2016!

2016 fieldwork season is officially open! A team from SMRU headed up to Orkney at the start of April to deploy telemetry tags on harbour seals. Once deployed, the tags will send back information on the location of the seals, both at sea and ashore. The tags, which are harmlessly glued to the fur at the back of the head, will fall out in the late summer when the seals start their annual moult. Meanwhile though, they will inform on each seal’s whereabouts and their usage of the different haulouts, information that we can then use to direct our photo-identification effort during the summer pupping season.


Seals sunbathing in Scapa Flow


Harbour seal posing for the photo-ID shot

I headed up to Orkney a few days in advance of the rest of the team, to check on several haulout sites known to be used by seals based on data from the aerial surveys. And to my delight, there were seals! I conducted counts at different sites while taking the opportunity to collect some pre-pupping season photo-identification data.

Once confirmed that there were enough seals the rest of the team joined me with boats and supplies. We had some spectacularly sunny and calm days but also some days with high winds and even snow! It was quite a surprise to see the hills of mainland Orkney and Hoy covered in white.


Burray in the sun and under the snow!

Despite the weather, we successfully tagged ten adult harbour seals in the area of Scapa Flow. A part from deploying the tags, we also collected individual covariates on the captured seals before releasing them (e.g. sex, age, condition, pregnancy status, health status, and toxin exposure), to investigate their effect on vital rates estimates.

tagged seal_3

Tagged seal at haulout and swimming away

As soon as each of the tagged seals gets into the water for the first time, the telemetry tags start recording the location of each animal as well as details of their dives while at sea. This information is sent back to SMRU when the seal is close to the coast within mobile phone coverage, using Vodafone‚Äôs latest machine-to-machine (M2M) technology. After that it’s just a matter of keeping an eye on the daily progress of the seals as information on their location is being delivered to our computers!

Written by Monica