Harbour seal movements and haul-out patterns: Implications for monitoring and management

Louise Cunningham (Lead / Corresponding author), John M. Baxter, Ian L. Boyd, Callan D. Duck, Mike Lonergan, Simon E. Moss, Bernie McConnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)


1. Compliance with conservation legislation requires knowledge on the behaviour, abundance and distribution of protected species. Seal life history is characterized by a combination of marine foraging and a requirement to haul out on a solid substrate for reproduction and moulting. Thus understanding the use of haul out sites, where seals are counted, as well as their at-sea movements is crucial for designing effective monitoring and management plans. 2. This study used satellite transmitters deployed on 24 harbour seals in western Scotland to examine movements and haul-out patterns. 3. The proportion of time harbour seals spent hauled out (daily means of between 11 and 27%) varied spatially, temporally and according to sex. The mean haul-out duration was 5 h, with a maximum of over 24 h. 4. Patterns of movement were observed at two geographical scales; while some seals travelled over 100 km, 50% of trips were within 25km of a haul-out site. These patterns are important for the identification of a marine component to designated protected areas for the species. 5. On average seals returned to the haul-out sites they last used during 40% of trips, indicating a degree of site fidelity, though there was wide variation between different haul-out sites (range 0% to <75%). 6. Low fidelity haul-out sites could form a network of land-based protected areas, while high fidelity sites might form appropriate management units.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)398-407
Number of pages10
JournalAquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2008


  • Conservation
  • Critical habitat
  • Harbour seal
  • Phoca vitulina
  • Protected areas
  • Satellite telemetry
  • Scotland
  • Site-fidelity
  • SRDLs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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