New ID system puts seals in the picture

Share this article
Have your say

A PHOTOGRAPHIC “Who’s Who” of seals has been created by Scottish scientists to help monitor the mammals.

The computerised photo-ID system developed at the University of St Andrews is being used to track grey seal populations in the UK and beyond.

While, to the untrained eye, all seals look the same, female greys have unique coat markings that stay the same all their adult life. The new system uses a form of pattern recognition to match key identifying marks with thousands of images held in a digital catalogue.

As a result, scientists can identify any female seal whose image has been captured in photographs repeatedly throughout her lifetime.

Experts at St Andrews, working with colleagues at Durham University, are using the technique to follow animals at a breeding colony on North Rona in the Outer Hebrides.

Long-term monitoring of individual seals is crucial if researchers are to understand how factors such as choice of breeding site affect seals’ survival rates and lifespan.

The research has already confirmed the female seals seem to be in decline at North Rona, as reflected in falling numbers of pups being born there.