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Pete Bevington

5 December, 2008

A grey seal pup - Photo: Courtesy of Hillswick Wildlife SanctuaryA MAN has been charged with killing 18 grey seal pups found dead on a remote island in the North Sea.

The 47 year old was arrested this week after police followed up a report of suspicious activity on the isle of East Linga, three miles east of Whalsay.

Workers from Scottish Natural Heritage were carrying out their annual survey of grey seal pups on Saturday when they saw two men acting suspiciously on the island.

Police officers went into East Linga on Wednesday where they discovered the bloody corpses of 18 seals, some of which appeared to have been clubbed to death.

A report has been sent to the procurator fiscal and the 47 year old man is expected to appear in court soon.

East Linga is one of six pupping sites surveyed annually by SNH to keep an eye on how the grey seal population around the islands is doing. Concern about seals has grown recently with a startling decline in common seal numbers over the past decade.

People on the island of Whalsay only heard about the incident yesterday when the police announced they had made the arrest.

The island is a vibrant fishing community with a salmon farm based at North Voe. Many islanders feel seals are a threat to their livelihood, though one local man, who asked not to be named, said he was “shocked and disturbed” by the news of the slaughter.

Local doctor and wildlife expert Brian Marshall said that there had been a marked decline in the number of common seals around Whalsay in recent years, though he was unsure how the grey seal population was doing.

Karen Hall, of SNH, said that the grey seal population around Shetland had remained “fairly stable” over the past 30 years at around 3,500. Around 30 greys are born on East Linga each year.

“There has not been a sudden increase or anything like that because seals are at the edge of their limits in Shetland. There are only certain places where they can pup,” she said.

Grey seals usually give birth on rocky outcrops around Shetland towards the end of October and early November. Born covered in a white, fluffy coat they grow fat on their mother’s rich milk before being abandoned on beaches to moult their white fur. They enter the sea at around six weeks old when they have to learn to fend for themselves.

Last week environmental groups lobbied the Scottish Parliament for a change in the law on killing seals, saying the Conservation of Seals Act gave inadequate protection.

The Seal Protection Action Group (SPAG) said that an estimated 5,000 seals are killed in Scottish waters every year. They are handing a letter in to prime minister Gordon Brown next week demanding greater protection for seals.

Fishermen and fish farmers are permitted to kill seals if they are posing a threat to their equipment or stock.

Andy Ottoway, of SPAG, said yesterday: “We are appalled to hear about this incident in Shetland and saddened that people still feel the need to persecute seals. This adds more weight to our case that our seals are a national treasure which should be protected by law.”

Most recent update - Saturday, 20 December 2008 00:08
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