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Gray seals consume as many fish as the fishing industry

The grey seals in the Baltic eat about the same quantities of cod, common whitefish, salmon, sea trout and eel as those taken by fishermen, Swedish researchers find.
Female Grey Seal
University of Gothenburg (Sweden)  |  Grey seals consume as much fish as the fishing industry catches    |   04-09-2012
Even if the amount of fish eaten by seals is small relative to the total amount of fish caught in the Baltic Sea, the seals' dietary habits may have a major impact on the local availability of fish in the areas where they are common.
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The conflict has mainly centred on the way in which seals eat from and destroy fishing gear, but as the number of seals has increased the possible competition for food resources has come into focus.

—Karl Lundström, University of Gothenburg

Thee grey seal was common at the beginning of the 20th century, but was hard hit by hunting and by environmental toxins, and only a remnant remained in the 1970s. However, the seal population has grown continuously since the middle of the 1980s, and this has led conflicts with the fishing industry.

The scientists have studied the dietary habits of the seals in order to understand the role they play on the ecosystem, and how they influence the surroundings.

The fatty acid composition in the seals’ blubber reflects the composition of fatty acids in the fish species that they eat, and can give an idea of the dietary patterns of the seals over a long period.

It became clear that the diet of grey seals differs between the northern and the southern Baltic. Herring was the most common food eaten by all seals, followed by common whitefish in the Gulf of Bothnia and sprat in the main body of the Baltic Sea. The diet of young seals differed from that of old seals, and the feeding habits of males differed from that of females.

Further reading â–º
Further reading â–º
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