Over 700 seals counted in the Thames estuary

The Guardian, 19th August 2013, reports: “More than 700 seals have been spotted in the Thames Estuary in the first ever count carried out by air, land and water. Conservationists and volunteers recorded 708 grey and harbour seals along the Thames in a survey stretching up the estuary to Tilbury, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) said.

700 seals spotted in Thames Estuary

Harbour seals near Whitstable, Kent.
Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

It is the first such complete assessment of the seals in the Thames following a boat survey by ZSL last year. The survey was timed to coincide with the annual seal moult, when harbour seals shuffle onto sandbanks to shed their coats and grow a new layer in time for the winter, making them easier to spot.

The scientists estimate there were around 500 harbour seals and 200 of the larger grey seals, although the exact figures need to be confirmed through further analysis.

ZSL’s conservation scientist Joanna Barker said: “We knew there were a lot of seals in the Thames but 708 is pretty incredible. In previous results there’s been a good few hundred in the Thames, but it’s great to have a figure we can use as a baseline.” She said the survey would be repeated in future years, enabling scientists to see if numbers were increasing, staying the same or declining. “Now we know the numbers and where they are, it can help with conservation,” she added.

Barker said: “It’s a really good indicator because the seals are the top predators in the marine food chain, and it shows that the marine environment is relatively good and is producing enough food for the seals to eat.”

In addition to the survey, ZSL also runs a reporting scheme for members of the public who spot seals and other marine mammals in the Thames. Sightings have been recorded at Richmond, by the London Eye and at Canary Wharf. The public is being urged to report sightings to help ZSL to learn more about the threats faced by marine mammals in UK waters. Sightings can be reported at www.zsl.org/inthethames.

Source: The Guardian, 19th August 2013. For the full text, see http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/aug/19/seals-counted-thames-estuary

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