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The dynamics of grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) off Amrum in the south-eastern North Sea: evidence of an open population
Abt, K.F.; Hoyer, N.; Koch, L.; Adelung, D. (2002). The dynamics of grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) off Amrum in the south-eastern North Sea: evidence of an open population. J. Sea Res. 47(1): 55-67
In: Journal of Sea Research. Elsevier/Netherlands Institute for Sea Research: Amsterdam; Den Burg. ISSN 1385-1101, more
Peer reviewed article  

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    Migrations; Phenology; Population dynamics; Halichoerus grypus (Fabricius, 1791) [WoRMS]; ANE, North Sea, Southern Bight [Marine Regions]; Marine

Authors  Top 
  • Abt, K.F.
  • Hoyer, N.
  • Koch, L.
  • Adelung, D.

    Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) have been extinct in the south-eastern North Sea for centuries. Only in recent decades have they re-established a few colonies, the first of which was located on a group of sand bars off the German island of Amrum. Based on frequent counts from aircraft and boats in 1976-2000, and a photo-identification program in 1997, we investigated seasonal dynamics, trends in abundance, pup production, and pup survival in this population. Numbers of hauled-out seals were highest in spring, with a peak of 70-100 in late March or early April, and usually lower than 40 from late May to late January, including the winter breeding season. Both spring and summer counts indicated an average increase of 4-5% per year. Annual pup production was 3-10 in 1988-1995 and 9-13 in 1996-1999, suggesting a breeding stock of only about half the minimum total population size, i.e. 137 individually recognised seals in 1997. The estimated survival of pups until weaning seemed high enough to support autochthonous increase, and hence suggested a self-sustaining breeding stock at least until the late 1990s. Pup survival declined, however, from 95-100% in 1988-1991 to 60-70% in 1992-1999, probably due to erosion of the sand bars. From (i) the relative excess of hauled-out seals in spring, as compared to the phenology of stocks in the western North Sea, (ii) turnover and net loss of individuals during the spring and summer of 1997, as indicated by photo-ID records, and (iii) the low apparent per capita birth rate, we suggest that grey seals off Amrum split into a resident breeding stock and a similar or higher number of seals immigrating outside the breeding season. The latter may originate from larger colonies in the southern and western North Sea, and return there for breeding. In the future, grey seals currently breeding off Amrum may eventually leave the area because of deteriorating conditions. However, a decline of numbers occurring in spring and summer would not necessarily be expected, because seasonal influx from increasing stocks elsewhere in the North Sea is likely to continue.

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