The Seal Conservation Society intends to encourage and support small projects on seals relating to conservation, protection and welfare. We will list ongoing projects in this section, with periodic updates on each project. These projects will be carried out by volunteers in consultation with the Society. Any donated funds will be used to help fund small projects being carried out on a voluntary basis.

If you would like to make a donation to the Society, please contact the Society. If you wish your donation to be earmarked for a particular project, please let us know by sending us an email. We would like to thank those of you who made a donation during 2012. These funds will be used during the forthcoming seasons for the continuing seal pup development project (see separate page) and the new grey seal stranding and rehabilitation project (see description below).

If you have any suggestions or ideas for either a new project or an ongoing one, please contact us to discuss.

Ongoing projects

See also pages for Seal pup development project and causes of stranding, also under 'research'.

New project: Grey seal pup stranding and rehabilitation, Lincolnshire (autumn and winter 2013)

We are delighted that Emma Horton, an biology student at Manchester University, is going to carry out a study of grey seal pup stranding and rehabilitation in the autumn and  winter of 2013.  Emma hopes to create a 'decision tree' for grey seal pups. This would be a field guide to help decide when a pup is actually stranded and needing rescue, ad would be designed along the lines of the draft decision tree already developed for harbour seal pups (see the document to download from the 'causes of pup stranding' page). The project will be carried out in close cooperaton with Mablethorpe seal sanctuary and also other sanctuaries in the area working with grey seal pups.

 

 

The seal pup development project began in the summer 2010. The study is being carried out on a voluntary basis in association with Tara Seal Research. The aim of the project is to try to understand and define 'well-being' in pups and the social and physical environments in which well-being may be maximised. The behaviour and body language of pups which we think indicates 'well-being' is already described in the section on pups' well-being under general care in rehab. However, these behavioural indices, and - conversely - behaviours and body language suggestive of stress or lack of well-being, may not be universally recognised.

The project is beginning with a quantitative assessment of the behavioural development of pups of the harbour seal (Phoca vitulina). This is being done by taking video of pups in the wild throughout the pupping season. Video clips are then analysed for the types of behaviour and the occurrence and duration of different behaviours. The same behaviours are recorded also in 'spot checks' taken at intervals by still photos. This quantitative description of pup development may then be used as a baseline for comparison with similar quantitative descriptions of the development of pups in rehabilitation in different conditions (i.e. pups kept alone/socially, with/without water, etc). The development of pups at a rehabilitation centre was recorded for the first time in this project during the 2010 pupping season. If the analysis of this preliminary study proves the method to be useful, we hope to extend this study to harbour seals in other rehabilitation facilities from the 2011 season onwards. We are also looking into possibilities for non-invasive assaying of levels of oxytocin, oxidative stress and cortico-steroids from saliva, urine or faeces of pups kept in different conditions. This would give an insight into the physiological well-being of pups, and could be correlated with different conditions of care which offer different social and physical environments. The hormonal study would be carried out in parallel with behaviour studies. Eventually we hope to extend the study to other species commonly held in rehabilitation, such as the grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) and the California sea lion (Zalophus californianus). Lessons learned may eventually help in rehabilitation and care of pups of endangered species such as monk seals.

Progress on this project will be updated on this page. Data from different facilities will be analysed according to species, age, and rehabilitation procedures. All participating facilities and individuals will be acknowledged in project reports.

Project project update:  In the summer 2012 we were fortunate to be able to carry out a lot of filming and studies of pups in both rehabilitation and captivity.

With many thanks to the Esbjerg Museum and Aquarium in Denmark, we were able to follow the development of an aquarium-born harbour seal pup and his mother with CCTV cameras and video. Later in the summer, and thanks to Natureland in Lincolnshire, we were also able to record the development of a second aquarium-born pup and mother. This footage will be analysed for behaviour and activity budget.

With many thanks - again to Natureland and also to Mablethorpe seal sanctuary in Lincolnshire - we were able to carry out a feasibility study for answering the question: Do orphan pups in rehabilitation need a companion? A report on this study can be downloaded from http://www.sealresearch.org/research/publications/behaviour-studies.  Also at Natureland and Mablethorpe we were able to obtain samples of saliva, urine and faeces from orphan pups. The saliva and urine are being analysed for biomarkers of 'stress' at the University of Lincoln and the faeces will soon be analysed also for 'stress' biomarkers at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna.  The oxytocin study is on hold until the summer of 2013, when we hope to carry this out in collaboration with our colleagues at the seal rehabilitation centre in Friedrichskoog, Germany.

 

This project will develop a database - held by the project authors and the Society - of seal sites for any species. The entry for each site will include:

species, country and name of location, GPS location, description of habitat at that site, number of seals, use of site at different season, occurrence of pupping, mating, moulting, haul-out or other, any information collected on foraging areas used by seals at that site, problems identified of disturbance, harassment, nearby fishing operations, killing, etc., legal  status of site (eg within a local, national or internatonal protected area), also legal protection status of the seals at that site.  The entry will include photographs of seals at the site.

The data collected may be used in various ways. It may be useful as baseline data when a coastal or offshore development is planned, to inform biologists of the distribution and habitat of the species, to inform eco-tourists where they may see the animals (under supervision where necessary to avoid disturbance). A particular site may be selected for detailed monitoring in the index site programme.

Seal site data will only be released to third parties or published on the website at the discretion of the Society and with the permission of the authors describing the site. The priority at all times will the conservation, protection and welfare of seals at any site.

Progress of the project, participants, country and species will be summarised and updated on this page.

Most pinniped populations are monitored by surveys, by boat or aircraft, over a wide area of distribution. Such surveys are often carried out under the auspices of government departments, and may occur seasonally, annually or less often. Such surveys offer a broad picture of the population numbers, fluctuations and distribution of a species. Index site monitoring involves 'zooming in' on a particular site within an area.

This 'zooming in' or index site monitoring allows for more detailed monitoring of parameters of the seal's biology such as estimates of abundance from series of counts at the site, the social structure of seals at the site, activity budget of known or marked individuals, timing of pupping, location and habitat of birth sites, pup development and dispersal, site disturbance or other problems, etc. Index site monitoring should ideally be carried out as a continuous annual series, leading to a better understanding of how stable the use of a particular site is, how breeding at the site varies from year to year, and developing problems of conservation status. Index sites are probably chosen by virtue of their accessibility to regular observers and visibility of the animals from the shore or small boat. They may be a particular beach or set of rocks, or a cluster of sites along a small stretch of coast, or within a sea inlet. One site may not be the location for all aspects of the seals' annual cycle, e.g. a site might be used for pupping but not for moulting, or vice versa, and awareness of such limitations is important to evaluating index site data.  Nevertheless, with awarness of these caveats, index site information has immense value to understanding the natural history and local population dynamics within a larger population, and has the advantage that it may be carried out by individuals or natural history societies living locally.

Detailed monitoring of a seal site may be advisable at a particular site if local people should be concerned about local development, e.g. of a fish farm development in the vicinity of a seal haul-out or breeding area.

Any individual or group wishing to set up a local index site monitoring programme should contact the society, which is available for consultation on such a programme. The Society may be able to assist with the estalishment of the programme, identification of seals and interpretation of monitoring data. Any data forwarded to the Society will not be released on the website or shared with any 3rd party without the permisson of the data authors.

Welfare of pinnipeds in captivity

This is a sister project to the 'Pup development' project, in that it entails using knowledge of the seals natural behaviour in the wild to assess welfare and 'well-being' of the same species in captivity. The methods of assessment being developed are similar to those in the 'Pup development' project, i.e. qualitative and quantitative analysis of behaviours in captvity compared with analysis of footage taken of the same species in the wild. The project has already started with some assessments being done at facilities in Canada and in Scotland. The aim of this project is to raise awareness generally of issues of well-being and welfare in captivity and, where appropriate, to discuss any issues or concerns arising from an assessment with the facility concerned. Eventually the results of the study will be published in an academic journal and all contributors to the study will be fully acknowledged.