Status of grey seals along mainland Europe from the Southwestern Baltic to France
AbstractThe grey seal was a common species along mainland Europe during the Stone Age (8,000-5,500 BC). Along the North Sea coast populations started to decline substantially during the 11th century as a result of excessive hunting. The last breeding populations disappeared in the 16th century in the Wadden Sea, and before 1900 in the Kattegat-Skagerrak and the Southwestern Baltic as a result of an extermination campaign. No regular pupping occurred along mainland Europe until the end of the 1970s, when a breeding colony was established near Amrum in the German Wadden Sea. Somewhat later, additional breeding sites were discovered near Terschelling in the Dutch Wadden Sea (1980), at Helgoland, and off Brittany in France. Tracking of movements indicate these seal groups to be linked to the larger populations in the UK. Numbers of grey seals in the recolonised areas have increased over the years, but in the Kattegat-Skagerrak stable numbersof about 25 individuals have been observed since the 1970s, whereas more than 100 grey seals are found in the Southwestern Baltic. In the southeastern North Sea, 120 grey seals occur during moult at Helgoland, 120 in the German and over 1,130 in the Dutch parts of the Wadden Sea in 2004. Along the southern Dutch and Belgian coasts small groups are regularly observed, but no colonies have yet been established. In the colonies off Brittany in France about 105 grey seals have been counted. Successful pupping has only been recorded 3 times in the Kattegat-Skagerrak over the past 30 years, and 2-4 pups are born annually in France and the Southwestern Baltic. The relative strongholds for breeding along the European continent are the Dutch Wadden Sea, where in 2003/2004 at least 150 pups were recorded, Amrum in the German Wadden Sea (23 pups) and Helgoland (8 pups). Consequently, total numbers of counted grey seals from the Southwestern Baltic to France amounted to at least 1,600 in 2004, while about 190 pups were born in the area.
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