Seal numbers on the slide

Eyemouth Harbour seals- part of the harbour scene where these tame  animals wait around to be fed
Eyemouth Harbour seals- part of the harbour scene where these tame animals wait around to be fed

A new report, published by Scottish Natural Heritage yesterday, shows that numbers of harbour seals are declining on the east coast, including the areas of Eyemouth and Dunbar.

The results of surveys carried out last year indicates that whilst seals are at an all time high on the west coast, numbers are only declining in the east.

Figures show that in the area from the Border to St. Andrews, the number of seals counted between 2007-2013 was at 147, a dramatic decline compared to the figures from 200-2006 where the seals number of seals was at 280, but still an increase compared to the figures pre-2000, where the number of seals was only at 116.

Harbour seals – also known as common seals – are found in cold and temperate waters throughout much of the northern hemisphere.

Ongoing research by Marine Scotland is investigating the local declines on the east coast and in the northern isles. Some factors, such as viral infection, persistent organic pollutants and interactions with fisheries have been ruled out.

Current thinking is that they are most likely due to competition with the larger and more numerous grey seals in these areas.

John Baxter, Principle Marine Adviser with Scottish Natural Heritage said: “It’s great to hear that harbour seal numbers on the west coast are doing so well but it’s of real concern that numbers on the east coast continue to drop so dramatically. It’s still not clear what’s causing the decline but we’re continuing to work with colleagues at Marine Scotland and SMRU to try to get a better understanding of what is going on.

“These surveys are important to help monitor seal numbers so we can work together to take action if necessary - this year we have funded further surveys of Shetland and the south-west and south-east coasts.”