Assessing the mortality rates of seals as well as the reason of their deaths has been and continues to be difficult due to the remote marine environment, even today many seal corpses go unrecorded, some sink while others may get washed out to sea. Even under the new laws (Marine (Scotland) Act 2010) which cover the shooting of seals in Scotland the Scottish Government states that is does not know the numbers of seal carcases being returned to the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC), part of the legal requirement under the licence issued by the Scottish Government.
The SAC state that any figures of returns should be accessed via the government, but they have stated that they generally receive ‘clean-kills'; no respecting marksman would want to show, hence return exhibits of poor marksmanship, yet in the conditions that shooting takes place the ideal conditions rarely exist; misses or near misses will be common place. The only figures that would equate to this come from the Canadian seal hunts where the ‘Struck and Loss’ figures can exceed 50%.
The latest figures released by the Scottish Government state that 1005 seals have been shot, or at least 1005 seals have been recorded as being shot, as there are no figures for ‘struck and loss’, no independent scrutiny and reliance is totally in the hands of the marksmen and fish farmer/fishermen. The latest Scottish government figures can be accessed here: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/
Mortality in seals has been highlighted in the past due to disease and more recently due to what has been coined; ‘cork-screw’ incidents. The government and scientists were slow to react to suggestions regarding injuries exhibiting an ‘Archimedes Screw’ type injury or better known as a ducted propeller.
According to recent reports, more than 80 seals have been recovered dead by injuries of this type; undoubtedly more will have been washed out to sea or washed up or sunk elsewhere. More information can be found here: http://www.theguardian.com/
The Guardian Article refers to a ‘coalition’ of 13 wildlife groups joining forces in order to campaign and seeking a ban on covered propellers. There are numerous benefits to wildlife groups and other Non Government Organisations (NGOs) coming together and we would wish to thank them and support them in their initiative. That said the numbers of seals being shot both illegally and the recorded figures under license in Scotland is in the order to two magnitudes higher than those recorded by propeller injuries; in the thousands rather than tens of seals.
With this in mind we hope that the coalition of wildlife groups could expand their efforts to include the killing of all seals around the UK/Scottish coast.
Most of the 80 seals – including 32 harbour seals that have been confirmed killed by corkscrew injuries in Scotland have happened in the last four years. Currently there is a Scottish Parliamentary Petition submitted regarding many thousands of seals that have been shot under licenses issued by the Scottish Government in the last 4 years in Scotland to salmon farms, salmon anglers, salmon netsmen and other fishermen.
With most of the industries listed above non-lethal methods of anti-predation exist; necropsies from salmon netsmen have shown nearly two thirds of shot seals had no salmon in their stomachs. We have not been able to identify any industry engaged in seal shooting utilising seal identification a simple and cheap method of proving the ‘rogue’ seal. Few engage in finfish aquaculture utilise double nets or better still closed containment.
Article 17 of the Habitats Directive states that Member States must submit returns for various listed species/habitats: Based on the Article 17 report supplied by DEFRA; The Atlantic Salmon Salmo salma population is unfavourable to inadequate. “Based on the combination of population and future prospect assessments the overall conclusion is unfavourable – Inadequate.”http://jncc.defra.
It could be argued that with the current situation with regard to the status of wild salmon is it prudent to commercially net salmon returning to spawn?
With seal killings in the thousands we hope that this coalition of wildlife groups could also address this needless licensed killing and support the Scottish Parliamentary Petition number PE01519: Save Scotland’s Seals
UPDATE 5th November, 2014
Since the above was published there are now at least 26 wildlife and conservation groups working together on this issue. The WDC article states that around 100 seals have been killed by ship propellers since 2010, during the same period thousands of seals have been legally shot in Scotland. We hope the 26 groups will also work together regarding the unacceptable number of seals legally shot which could easily be avoided.
The Scottish Government and salmon farmers claim that seals are only shot as a last resort. However, in their submission to the Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee on PE01519 the Special Committee on Seals (SCOS), which advises Government on issues involving seals, admitted; “… shooting should be a last resort, but often net tensioning and other options to prevent or reduce seal-human conflict, such as acoustic deterrent devices (ADDs) are not implemented because of the costs involved.”
Additional information WDC demands change to law after study links hundreds of seal deaths to ducted ship propellers via WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation.