End of 2016 fieldwork!

That’s it, after weeks of taking photographs, counting seals and looking for mum-pup pairs, 2016 fieldwork season has reached the end! The weather has unfortunately kept me indoors on my last day, and with that finish 80 days of going out on the field since the end of March, over 200 visits to haul out sites and more than 11,000 photographs taken in Orkney! Craig has also finished the season in Kintyre, and Andy will go out to check on the seals at Loch Dunvegan this upcoming weekend for the last time this year.

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I cannot believe fieldwork is over!

It has been a very intense but rewarding season. I have enjoyed spending so many hours out in the field observing the seals, and generated tons of (hopefully) great data. The good weather also helped, allowing me to go out almost everyday, missing on just a few very rainy days.

Some of the telemetry tags that were deployed back in April are still attached to the seals and sending information on their location, movements and diving behavior. The rest have stopped transmitting likely because they have fallen out with the seals’ undergoing their annual moult, as expected.

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Male with telemetry tag #260 in Burray on July 24th 2016

One of the seals that still has the tag on is a male with tag number 260 (see picture above), which I have lately seen hanging around at one of the haulout sites in Burray. He was initially tagged on March 14th 2016 in Widewall Bay and since then he has been moving within and out of Scapa Flow, spending a lot of time between Flotta and Burray.

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Movements of a male harbour seal with telemetry tag #260 between 14th March and 28th July 2016

When I took the previous photograph, this male had just come out of the water to haulout. After a while though, as the tide came up, he was not there anymore, and I couldn’t figure out where he had moved to. As I took my eyes from the camera and looked towards the water I spotted him silently checking on me, just a few meters away! I do sometimes wonder who is the one checking on who here…

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Male with telemetry tag checking on me!

The haulout sites will continue with their activity after I leave, with the last few pups being weaned, mating season already started and all seals except this year’s pups undergoing their annual moult. A few days ago I captured on video two males getting into a fight once again. The smaller of the two seals initially approached the bigger one just to exchange some growling, the bigger male not being too worried. Despite his much smaller size though, the youngest of the males ended up taking up the fight, to my surprise and, I think, the opponent’s!

Ahead of me there are a good few months of data processing and analysis. All those pictures that have been taken need to be graded for quality and then each seal needs to be identified in order to build a catalogue of seals in each area. These catalogues will be used when we come back in the following summers, to construct a sighting history for each identified seal, allowing us to look at the fate of each individual over time and estimate their survival rate. The pictures and observations taken this year will also allow us to know which females were seen with and without a pup, which will be used to estimate fecundity rates in each area.

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Two harbour seal pups resting

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Harbour seal pup taking a nap

Observing the seals has been great fun, and I have also enjoyed spending all these weeks in Orkney, what an amazing place! I am happy to have met and talked to so many people during my time here, and I am very grateful to the many land-owners that have allowed me to drive through and park in their properties at all times and days of the week in order to get to the haul out sites.

For now it’s a goodbye to Orkney and the seals, although I will be seeing them in photographs over the next few months. Keep tuned to this blog as I will update with news on how we are getting on in the upcoming months. Few fun seal pics to finish off!

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Big male yawning and stretching…

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Balancing seal

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Seal pup suckling, look how big he is getting!

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Seal sticking its tongue out!

Written by Monica

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