Why Seals Might Love Having More Wind Farms
New research reveals that off-shore wind farms are particularly useful for seals as they appear to act like artificial reefs, drawing in large groups of fish.
The study, carried out by researchers at St Andrews University in Scotland and published this month in the journal Current Biology, saw scientists track a group of seals in the North Sea using GPS devices. The purpose of the study was to look at whether man-made changes to the structural ocean environment are affecting marine predator behavior.
To explain that, the scientists highlight that whenever we make changes to the landscape for the purposes of building or reshaping a particular location, those changes can affect local wildlife. For instance, and for a not particularly green example, by creating a landfill, we may attract a variety of animals that can utilize the rubbish we have thrown out. Quite often, the concentrations of these foraging animals can affect change in predator animals, too. They will be drawn to these areas in order to hunt for those animals further down the food chain who are using the area for their own food and habitat needs.
This kind of change as a result of our reshaping the environment is well documented on-land, but until now the effect has not been tracked in marine environments.
Looking at the tracking data from two groups of harbor and grey seals, which are good candidates for this kind of research because they are apex predators, which have no known predators above them affecting their behavior, the scientists found that a number of seals from each group regularly visited off-shore wind farms, the Alpha Ventus farm off the German coast, and the Sheringham Shoal farm close to southeast England.
When looking at the tracking data, the researchers noticed that rather than just swimming through the wind farms, the seals appeared to be hunting. They could tell this by the fact that a number of the seals adopted grid-like movements around particular turbines, methodically searching for fish in patterns that have previously been observed as classic hunting behavior. This wasn't a one-off either, with a number of seals repeatedly returning to the wind farms and displaying the same behavior. The seals were also shown to do the same around sub-sea pipelines, with the seals following along the line of the area up to ten times a day.
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Seal image via Shutterstock.