Network for Animals recently met with scientists from the Marine Mammal Research Unit to investigate the decline of the Harbour seal population in the UK. These scientists told us that in some areas of the UK, Harbour seal populations have dropped by up to 93% in under 15 years, and recent publications show these populations are continuing to decline.

Scientists suggest that contributing causes of population decline include changes in prey quantity and prey quality, forced alterations to marine habitats (due to activities such as trawling and pollution), and increased competition for food from other marine mammals. Additional information suggests that the deliberate shooting of seals by salmon farmers could also be cause for concern for Harbour seal populations.

Despite seals having protected status, British salmon farmers are allowed by law to shoot seals to ‘protect’ their farmed fish stocks, as a ‘last resort’. Hundreds of seals have thus been killed for the sake of farmed salmon. However, before shooting seals, farmers should prove that they have good fishing practices, which include having strong nets that won’t allow seals in to catch their farmed fish. Although shooting seals should be a last resort, there’s nobody around to enforce or monitor this rule, and while bullets are cheaper than strong fishing nets, the shooting of seals continues.

What does your local supermarket know about the salmon it sells? Ask them and let us know. What farms are your salmon sourced from? How many seals have been shot by the farm, or their contractor in the last year, and in the 10 years previously?

Even if you don’t eat fish, please do ask these questions. Creating change in industrial animal welfare practices begins with awareness: Ask questions, demand answers. Let’s speak up for harbour seals together.