Investigation of causes of pup stranding

An initial investigation will be at particular seal pupping sites in the UK, Ireland and western Europe where  unusually high rates of stranding of nursing pups have occurred in recent years. 

The relation between human disturbance and 'orphan' pup stranding

In some European countries, some or all seal breeding sites are protected from disturbance, while in some countries there is little or no protection from disturbance. For example, on the German Wadden Sea coast all harbour seal breeding sites are strictly protected reserves, but grey seal sites are not protected. In England and Wales there is no legislation against disturbance, but in the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland there is legislation of disturbance of all seals under general wildlife conservation. In Scotland new legislation somewhat bizarrely affords protection against disturbance to some named seal sites but not others.

A proposed project will require observers to monitor the sites for human disturbance or other factors and determine the cause of individual pup separation from their mothers. A report on findings will be prepared for the society, and the report made available to local policy makers and stakeholders for the purpose of helping to ensure protection of seal colonies from types of disturbance which may result in mother-pup separation. The project will also seek to disseminate public education materials which explain why and how human activities may cause seal pups to be separated from their mothers and strand on the shoreline.

The Seal Conservation Society Pup Stranding workshop held on September 24 2012 at the Holarctic Conference, Suzdal, Russia.

The Seal Conservation Society organised a workshop to discuss the general causes of harbour seal stranding and in particular to address the apparently high levels of harbour seal pup stranding in the southern North Sea during the past decade. Participants in the workshop and contributors to presentations included specialists rehabilitation centres in the UK, Germany, Denmark, Poland and Russia. The workshop attempted to gather data on harbour pup stranding levels at different ages and seasons, and corresponding rehabilitation. Data was contributed by Dr Pieter Lienau of the Norddeich seal centre in Niedersachsen, Germany Tanja Rosenberger aand Janne Sundermeyer of the Friedrichskoog seal centre in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, Dr Lasse Fast Jensen of the Esbjerg Aquarium, Denmark, Duncan and Nicki Yeadon of Natureland seal sanctuary in Lincolnshire and Paul King of Mablethorpe seal sanctuary, in Lincolnshire. The Society is immensely grateful to all of these contributors for their time and expertise given to the project.

Some of the presentations given at the workshop and the workshop outputs are attached below.  From the contributed data we have been able to put together a report which outlines stranding levels and causes, and survivorship in rehabilitation, of stranded pups recovered at different ages up to one year.  We have also compiled a document - based mainly on the UK experience - of advice relating to recognition of stranded pups, and this was then condensed into a shorter  'decision tree' document. This is intended for use as a field guide to deciding on whether  intervention is appropriate when harbour seal pups appear to be stranded.  In some countries there are existing guidelines and criteria for different types of intervention in apparent cases of seal pup stranding, in many countries/areas guidelines are less well defined, and it is for such cases that this decision guide is intended. It should be emphasised that the stranding report and 'decision' documents are work-in-progress, and advice and comments from other specialists in the field are welcome. The documents on recognising stranded pups and the 'decision tree' relate specifically to the UK and western Europe populations, and would require amendments (particularly on season) before it could be applied to other harbour seal subspecies and populations in N. America and the western Pacific.

We hope that the workshop outputs will prove useful and provide a stimulus for further cooperation and data sharing between specialists from different areas. The pup stranding workshop report does indicate what more could be achieved in understanding the breeding dynamics of the populations if all the gaps could be filled by developing a network of compatible  national/regional/international stranding databases. We would hope that this approach might also be applied to pup stranding in other pinniped species.


Download documents from Suzdal workshop