Tracking seals in Orkney

It’s been almost two months since we came to Orkney to deploy GPS tags on harbour seals. The tags, deployed on ten adult seals, have been transmitting information regularly about the movements and dive profiles of each of the seals, showing quite a variety of individual movements around Orkney.

all tracks

Movements of the 10 seals equipped with telemetry tags over the last two months (click to enlarge)

These data enables us to identify the seals’ potential feeding areas, study their diving behavior and movement patterns, and inform us of where the seals haul out. The latest has been very helpful to guide our photo-identification effort around Scapa Flow.


Seal with one of the deployed telemetry tags

Some seals have been doing relatively short distance trips, like one adult female who has been foraging around Widewall Bay in South Ronaldsay from the start. Others have adventured further. A male that was tagged in Widewall Bay (tag #258) has been crossing the Pentland Firth many times, spending time in Harrow, in mainland. Another male, with tag #260, has explored Scapa Flow, spending quite a lot of time around Flota, and has traveled to the west of Hoy in several foraging trips. Another female took a long trip north past Papa Westray, closely following the coast, before heading back to Widewall Bay.

Here are some examples of the seal tracks (click on each map to enlarge):

258 - mainland

Seal #258 moving between Widewall Bay and Harrow, in mainland

260 - Scapa

Seal #260 moving across Scapa Flow and out to the west of Hoy

264 -Papa Westray

Seal #264 who took a trip north of Papa Westray and is currently back in Widewall Bay











Seal #259 has repeatedly been doing foraging trips to an area north of Scrabster and west of Hoy














The seal that has traveled further so far is a female with tag #256, who was initially tagged in Burray on the 19th of April. She then spent a couple of days around Burray and another few days moving between Flotta, Fara, Hoy and Switha. On April 25th she headed south and followed the coast of mainland until she arrived to the Moray Firth. There, she has been doing foraging trips  for over a month, while using the coast between Culbin Sands and Findhorn to haulout. On the 30th May she started heading back north, arriving in Burray on 2nd June, a month and a half after leaving Orkney.

256 track

I went out on the 2nd of June to count and take photographs at one of the haulouts, despite the horrible and wet weather. Well, check who I saw having a very well deserved rest… hopefully this female is back in Orkney in time for pupping season.


Seal with tag #256 having a rest after the long trip back from the Moray Firth…

Our colleagues at the University of Aberdeen Lighthouse Field Station, based in Cromarty, have been conducting harbour seal photo-identification studies in the Moray Firth for many years. It turns out they’ve just had a very similar return story to our traveling female. Two seals that were tagged with GPS back in February 2015, with their last known locations in Orkney and on the north coast, have been recently seen back in Loch Fleet! You can check the details of their travels in their blog.

Written by Monica











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