Wildlife sightings 5 Feb 2015

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Alex

We still await the first gannet to arrive, with more and more sightings of them flying up the coast and even around the Bass Rock, though none have been spotted landing or resting on land, as of yet. Keep a look out on the Scope Deck as well as on the cameras!

The peregrine falcon also made a return and was sighted on Tuesday (3 February), the first appearance for many months!

The clusters of guillemots and fulmars can still be seen in the morning on Fidra, with the former growing in size as more and more return to their stacks, especially on the Isle of May. The peregrine continues to make a regular appearance also.

On the Isle of May Charlie (Blue ZCA) and Juliette (Red XIJ) continue to be seen making their nest as well as Portia (Green UAP) interfering in their nest building while the pair are away. There has been a slight increase in the number of shags on the May in the past week and, hopefully soon, Charlie and Juliette will have some neighbouring pairs building their own nests!

The May was also host to over 24 seals this week, with both bulls and cows returning to moult their pelts.

Our tank continues to thrive following the removal of the butterfish, and the introduction by Andy of spontaneous mini handling sessions of the starfish, periwinkle and hermit crab has been a big hit, especially with the children. The new 3D TV is also generating excellent feedback from both visitors and members!

Sightings by Maggie Sheddan

Bass Rock – They are out there, but are they sitting down by the foghorn? The planned trips have been thwarted again by weather. I think I’m having a race as to whether I land first or a gannet does. I suspect the latter, so keep watching. Great to hear the peregrine was seen at one of its winter vantage points that, within the next few weeks, will slowly be overtaken by the returning colony.

Sitting at home flipping through the webcams it was lovely to see the guillemots on Fidra. Has anyone spotted a cormorant with a white thigh patch? It won’t be long. I had been going to touch on gulls this week but with the breaking news below, perhaps another day. However, lesser-black backs (yellow legs) should be appearing soon. We recognise our three most common species seen and probably the black headed gull and the common gull. There have, however, been a few sightings recently of glaucous and Iceland gulls, which, in adult plumage although you may not know what they are, will stand out because they are different. The real difficulty comes with the juvenile plumages of all gull species, a study of its own. A couple of weeks ago I watched a young herring gull on the harbour wall pestering an adult close by, I may add to no avail. It was the constant cry that alerted me, but when people say there’s nothing much to observe, this was just a few metres away and fascinating to watch.

“Cannibal seals behind mystery deaths in Scotland”, the headline in today’s Scotsman. For several years now marine experts have puzzled over the unusual single, smooth-edged cuts that spiralled around the body found on dead seals washed up along Scottish shorelines. The Greenland shark at one point was thought to be the cause but was dismissed and attention turned to boats and more specifically, the propellers. Marine and Seabird surveyors, along with the public, were alerted resulting in more corpses being reported. The subsequent studies led to the conclusion that the mysterious ‘corkscrew‘ cuts were the result of being sucked into ducted boat propellers – (used on vessels that need to move slowly or remain stationary).

However, new research from the SMRU suggests male grey seals are most likely to blame. A bull was seen killing five young seals on the May, biting off chunks of blubber, leaving the dead animals with distinctive spiral injuries. On camera we have also witnessed attacks and, certainly on surveys, we have seen bulls attack young seals – not killing them, but still ferocious and aggressive. This, combined with recent evidence from Germany, suggests that such predatory behaviour may be more common than previously thought and could explain the unusual clusters of injured seals found in Scottish waters. The report has identified through thorough post mortem that the wounds are the same as those previously identified as propeller and, or shark injuries. The most recent studies carried out on the May show a single adult was responsible for at least eight of the deaths on the Isle of May. A further six dead animals were found near the same spot with similar injuries. The report also suggests the same animal could also have killed seals in Helgoland, a German archipelago in the North Sea. So, ‘killer bull ’has been fitted with a tagging device, which shows it is currently heading towards a grey seal breeding colony on the islands.

“In combination with recent reports of grey seals eating porpoises and harbour seals, these observations suggest that grey seals are acting as a top predator in the North Sea. The new evidence does not eliminate ship propellers, but the researchers say it is now less likely they are a key factor.”

It does shed a new and fascinating perspective on how we may view certain individuals of this species. As we have specific individual predatory gulls, it appears it is the same with the grey seal.

Galapagos Breaking news, “Ecuador has just announced a state of emergency in the Galapagos Islands, a week after a cargo ship with hazardous materials ran aground there. Booms have been used to contain a fuel spill in the pristine waters however it still poses a threat to the archipelago’s fragile ecosystem famous for their unique flora and fauna such as the giant tortoise, marine iguana and flightless cormorant. The emergency “will allow authorities to have immediate [financial] means to deal with the situation”. It is the third such incident in the Galapagos in the past year. The cargo ship was carrying more than 70,000 litres (15,400 gallons) of diesel fuel.

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