Undersea sonic blasts ‘harm seals’

Research into deterring grey seals shouldn't be secret, say campaigners. Picture: Getty
Research into deterring grey seals shouldn't be secret, say campaigners. Picture: Getty
Have your say

ONE of the UK’s leading animal welfare organisations has filed a complaint to the Scottish Information Commissioner against St Andrews University for refusing to reveal details of a licence which campaigners claim allow it to blast hundreds of wild seals with noise greater than a jet plane taking off.

The university’s sea mammal research centre is undertaking research aimed at deterring seals from attacking salmon fish farm nets located along Scotland’s coastline.

Salmon farmers have long complained that a single seal attack can result in the loss of thousands of fish, leaving many more traumatised.

The Scottish Government does issue licences to shoot seals, but in the past this has often led to protests.

Now campaigners in the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) say the university’s research is causing extreme distress to the seals.

They say this starts from the moment the grey seals are captured, and continues when they are held in nets, and transported to the research facility where blood samples are taken. Sometimes seals have to be anaesthetised if handling is difficult.

Campaigners say research has included the seals being subjected to noise between 170-174 decibels. The noise of a jet engine on take-off is around 120 decibels.

At the end of last year the BUAV submitted a Freedom of Information request to the university asking it to reveal the terms of its Home Office licence. They argued that this was in the public interest and would highlight what alternatives were discussed.

The request was for a redacted copy of the licence, meaning scientists’ names would not be made public.

However, they say they were told by the university that the terms of the licence granted by the Home Office is an “internal communication”.

The BUAV had asked to see a redacted copy of the university’s licence and say they have no intention of identifying scientists involved.

They say that revealing details of the licence is in the public interest and that without its terms of reference being made public there is no way of knowing if alternative methods were considered.

They also say they are concerned about how realistically researchers and the Home Office assessed the suffering of the animals, a key element in any assessment needed before a licence is granted.

Sarah Kite, director of special projects at the BUAV, said: “We are surprised and disappointed by the response we have received from St Andrews University to our reasonable request for information.

“These wild seals are subjected to the stress of capture and handling before being blasted with loud noises in publicly funded experiments which are clearly designed to test their fear responses.

“We strongly believe that it is in the public interest for further details of these distressing experiments to be released.”

A spokesman for the university said: “The matter is with the Scottish Information Commissioner. The university has responded to the commissioner’s initial request for information.”