FRENCH SEALS - 27th July 1999

Grey seals from Brittany are in the habit of swimming as far as the North Sea to visit other colonies and can cross the Channel to Britain in 48hrs to cavort with other seals.

A study released this month of satellite tagged seals by French marine biologists at the Oceanopolis research centre has shown the species to be dogged travellers, said Sami Hassani, who heads studies on sea mammals at the centre.

"For the first time we were able to observe journeys right up to the North Sea," he said. "They travel far afield."

In April, scientists using a satellite tagging system developed by the Sea Mammal Research Unit in Scotland captured and tagged four males and two females among Grey seals living on the Molene archipelago.

"The Molene colony is not sedentary", Hassani said."The seals instinctively visit areas where there are other colonies, but we do not yet know whether they return to the same place to reproduce."

One of the males swam as far as the Isles of Scilly off the western tip of England before swimming up into waters off Wales and then on to the Les Minquiers island off Jersey and Guernsey before coming home.

A female fond of estuaries swam to the mouth of the Thames and stopped off between Jersey and Guernsey on her way back to France.

Likewise, French scientists have found seals tagged in Ireland hob-nobbing with their cousins in Brittany.

Hassani said the new data on seal travel was vital to efforts to protect the species, notably a marine park still on the drawing board aimed at protecting sea life in the Molene archipelago as well as in the region between the Channel and the Gulf of Gascony.

There are an estimated 150,000 Grey seals scattered in European waters up to the Artic circle, 90,000 of them in the British Isles, and around 150 of them in Brittany, with the Molene archipelago their southern limit for travel.

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