Scottish seals still sliced to death by propellers ‘because ministers are breaking international law’

Warning: Graphic images below. Experts think seals are attracted to the sound made by propellers - and activists say EU legislation demands immediate action be taken to protect the marine mammals

Seals in Scotland are being maimed and killed by ships’ propellers and ministers are breaking the law by doing nothing to save them, according to a panel of leading wildlife groups.

The National Trust, Wildlife Trusts and other agencies have joined forces with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation group in writing to the UK and Scottish parliaments demanding immediate action to protect the animals.

For years now experts and fishermen have been finding the corpses of harbour seals washed up on the east coast of Scotland with horrific “corkscrew injuries” – gaping wounds spiralling down their bodies from head to tail with deep, clear-cut edges.

The government agency Marine Scotland has commissioned research into the cause of these injuries from St Andrews’ Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU), but in their letter activists warned this process is taking too long.

In the SMRU's latest report on the issue, they said that not only are propellers highly likely to be reason for the unusual injuries, but that they all occur in the same way - starting on the face.

This, they say, means that seals are swimming head-first into slow-moving or stationary vessels, attracted by “some aspect of the acoustic output of the device”.

Harbour seal juvenile showing typical spiral wound, collected in the Edenestuary in St Andrews Bay, July 2009 (SMRU) Harbour seal juvenile showing typical spiral wound, collected in the Edenestuary in St Andrews Bay, July 2009 (SMRU) Citing the EU’s Habitats Directive, which lists Scotland’s harbour seals as a protected species, the wildlife activists told ministers: “We would strongly urge you to act on the best available evidence – that certain kinds of ducted (covered) propellers kill and injure marine mammals.

“By failing to maintain the harbour seal population… the UK Government is therefore arguably in breach of the Habitats Directive.

“Your response to our letter stating that the Scottish Government will not currently attempt to introduce any mitigation measures in respect of a known cause of mortalities for a declining Annex II species is a continuation of that breach and is a failure to provide precautionary management as required under the Habitats Directive. Attempts to rectify these breaches must therefore be made immediately.”

Photograph of the woundon a juvenile harbourseal. The smoothedged cut throughthe skin and tearing of the blubber by a lateral shearing force was common to all carcasses examined (SMRU) Photograph of the woundon a juvenile harbourseal. The smoothedged cut throughthe skin and tearing of the blubber by a lateral shearing force was common to all carcasses examined (SMRU) More than 80 seals have been confirmed killed in Scotland with corkscrew injuries, according to the Guardian, and the environmental agencies warned that populations of harbour seals could be wiped out altogether.

If that happens, the Government could be liable to multimillion-pound fines under EU law.

“We are failing seals,” Sarah Dolman, from Whale and Dolphin Conservation, told the newspaper.

“The Scottish Government needs to act on existing evidence to prevent their deaths or iconic harbour seals will disappear from the east coast of Scotland in just 20 years.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said that while “good progress” was being made determining the cause of the injuries, the ducted propeller explanation had not yet been proven with “conclusive results”.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?