The Problem of problem seals
John Woodlock



Problem seals, both Common and Grey are not that uncommon. Seals can cause problems in a number of situations. For instance by hanging around salmon farms, thus causing stress and subsequent loss of condition to the fish, this adds up to loss of money. The more immediate and damaging problem is when a seal discovers that it can break into a salmon cage and gorge itself. The remaining fish escape to cause their own problems with the wild populations of salmon, not to mention the financial loss of the fish themselves. Fish farmers are well aware of the damage a "rogue" seal can cause and have developed various methods to deter them.

The unfortunate fact is that most of these are only temporary solutions. Commercial "Seal-Scarers" either uses the hunting calls of species such as Killer Whales or else high frequency sounds to discourage seals from hanging around fish farms. These do work, but unfortunately only for a limited time because the seals do become habituated to the noises, after which they will ignore them. The only permanent solution seems to be to remove the individual seal from the area. The problem almost always is the case that a single seal has found the easy food source and stays around to exploit it as long as it can. If this seal is removed the problem goes, admittedly probably to be replaced by a new seal. The easiest way and unfortunately, probably the commonest way to do this is to shoot the seal. Shooting can be very effective, not only to rid the area of a persistent "rogue", but prolonged killing of seals frequenting an area can deter them from visiting that area. In Britain one case showed that catches increased from two to 767 salmon over five seasons, during which 624 seals had been shot at the nets. In Britain salmon nets are often permanent structures. I myself have seen a salmon net in Ireland with nineteen fish heads remaining in it following the visit of a Grey seal. In some instances fish had packets of strychnine sewn into them and the bodies then hung in the nets to poison the seals.

Both species of seal found around the British Isles are protected and a license is required to shoot one, owners of fish farms generally can get a license without too much trouble. The other solution is to catch the seal and relocate it. Not easy at all, but it works if the seal is moved far enough away from the original site. Remember that some seals migrate so you could say that they have the ability to return "home" if they know where it is.

Over the past number of years there has been a problem on at least three separate occasions where a seal has got into the habit of swimming upstream with the tide and causing havoc in important salmonid rivers. In one case the seal was caught and released over forty miles away, only to reappear a short time later. A seal in a river may seem an easy thing to catch but believe me it is not. The recognized method is to use a large mesh rope net. This avoids catching or damaging the fish in the river. But having tried this method myself I can vouch for the fact that seals are not easily caught in a net. They surface on the wrong side of it every time you are sure you have caught it. What generally happens is that suddenly the seal disappears!

I know of several occasions where this has happened. Public interest has died down and the seal in the river has lost its novelty value so the press loses interest and an interested party "does away" with the intruder. Delicate inquiries and whispered admissions revealed to me that someone discreetly shot the seals one night, but nobody admits to knowing who actually does the deed.

The need for an effective, humane method of removing seals, particularly from situations such as a Salmon River remains. If nothing is done the seal will just "disappear". If the Irish Seal Sanctuary had a working trap, it would then be in a position to assist any fisheries affected by seals. The Irish Seal Sanctuary also has the contacts to allow it to relocate the problem seal to an area where it will not be a problem and far enough away from where it was caught. I have designed a seal trap based on the design used for centuries in the Baltic Sea region to capture seals for consumption. If the I.S.S. had two of these traps there should be no reason for a seal to be "disappeared" in Ireland . I have had the building of the traps priced at approx. 450 Euro each, but they should last many years. If anyone would like to sponsor a trap or two, it would be possible to display the sponsor's name on he trap. I would envisage media interest in the use of the traps.




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