Marine Scotland: Where are the seals around the UK?


In December 2017, Marine Scotland published a new report in the Scottish Marine and Freshwater Science series on research commissioned from the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) to produce updated maps of grey and harbour seals in UK waters.

Using a combination of telemetry data from seal tags between 1991 and 2016, and haul out counts taken from aerial surveys between 1996 and 2015, these updated maps provide estimates of at-sea distribution of both grey and harbour seals at a spatial resolution of 5km x 5km.

The maps, funded by Scottish Government under the existing Marine Mammal Scientific Support Research Programme, will be useful for marine renewable developments, as well as for other marine spatial planning applications.

About 40% of the world population of grey seals can be found in Britain and over 90% of British grey seals breed in Scotland, the majority in the Hebrides and in Orkney. There are also breeding colonies in Shetland, on the North and East coasts of mainland Britain and in Southwest Britain.

Harbour, or common, seals are widespread around the West coast of Scotland and throughout the Hebrides and Northern Isles. On the East coast, their distribution is more restricted with particular concentrations in the Wash, Firth of Tay and the Moray Firth.

Both species of seal, along with key haul-out areas, are protected in Scotland by the Marine (Scotland) Act.

Read the report and associated data.

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