Help Scientists With Photographs Of Seals

University of Gothenburg

Seal researcher Daire Carroll is calling for photographs of seals in Swedish waters. The images will help with understanding seal activity and be used to learn more about seal ecology.

Why are you doing this?

"We want to get a better understanding of the status of seals along Sweden's coasts. We are a handful of researchers here at the University of Gothenburg who follow how seal populations develop. By enlisting the help of the public, we can complement the other research we do and get a picture of how the seals move and what impact human activities have on their behaviour. For example, we have seen that the number of harbour seal pups born each year is decreasing here on the west coast and are now investigating the reasons for this."

What should I consider if I want to take a photograph of a seal?

"Firstly - keep your distance! It is important not to disturb the seals. The time they spend on land is extremely important for their recovery. Remember that a sleepy seal is a happy seal. When a seal looks directly at you, it has been disturbed and you should move away. Therefore, take photos from a distance using a zoom lens or when the seals approach you voluntarily in the water. If you are able to take a photo of a seal, try you get a head shot. Even if it is not a high quality image, we would like you to report it."

Porträtt av Daire Carroll
Daire Carroll is a researcher in seal populations dynamics at the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Gothenburg.

What do you do with the images?

"Each seal has a unique fur pattern that works in the same way as our fingerprints. A picture of the head and neck is enough for us to identify individuals using pattern recognition software. We are now building a database where we can track the seals' movements based on the images sent in. In the past, seals were captured and freeze-marked, but with this method, this is no longer necessary."

Which seals do you want pictures of?

"All seals along the Swedish coast! We have three seal species living in our waters: the ringed seal and grey seal, which mainly live in the Baltic Sea, and the harbour seal, which is most common along the west coast. So far we have mostly received pictures from the west coast, but would love to get more pictures taken in the Baltic Sea!"

What have you learnt so far

"Last summer was the first time we invited the public to send in photos. Among other things, we received a picture of a harbour seal pup as early as May last year. Harbour seals normally give birth in June, so this was an unusual sighting. The fact that pups are born earlier in the year may be an effect of climate change. This is something we will follow in this project."

Text: Karl-Johan Nylén

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