Drone counts a record number of grey seals

We have counted a record number of grey seals at South Walney Nature Reserve, thanks to the latest drone technology
Image of grey seals at South Walney Nature Reserve taken by drone March 2019

Some of the 483 grey seals counted by drone at a recent survey at South Walney Nature Reserve  

Our recent drone survey counted 483 seals (the previous highest survey in January 2018 counted 360). Sarah Dalrymple, Warden at South Walney Nature Reserve said: “This is very encouraging news indeed – we’re delighted to see that the grey seal colony at South Walney continues to thrive!  We go to great lengths not to disturb the colony and to ensure that all visitors to our reserve are equally respectful of these wonderful marine mammals. The seals are extremely vulnerable to disturbance and we can put this record number of seals down to the fact that our strong and consistent ‘do not disturb’ message is really getting across to the public.”

Sarah continued: “We take great care using the drone, which flies very high and requires special permission from Natural England, to avoid distressing the seals and other wildlife. We’ve been using this exciting new technology to survey the seals for the past two years. It’s a great resource for us to use, although we’re continuing with our traditional counts, which involve crawling across the shingle and watching the seals through binoculars, to compare results. Both methods are important, but the drone gives us more accurate numbers.”  

Seal surveys are carried out fortnightly at South Walney Nature Reserve, from September to March. The surveys monitor the seal population structure in the area from year to year. The behaviours displayed by the seals are also monitored to gain an understanding of how they respond to different factors. This includes how they are affected by human disturbance, such as boating and recreational use of the sea surrounding Walney Island. 

This season seven seal pups were recorded at South Walney Nature Reserve. There is strictly no access to the area of the nature reserve where the seal pups are. However, the rest of the seals can be seen playing and fishing in the water at high tide, along with thousands of wintering wildfowl and wader birds, from hides elsewhere on the nature reserve.

We can put this record number of seals down to the fact that our strong and consistent ‘do not disturb’ message is really getting across to the public
Sarah Dalrymple
Warden, South Walney Nature Reserve