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.

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Seals sunbathing in Scapa Flow

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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.

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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.

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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’s 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

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