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Tuesday, 12 October 2010


More on the Greenland Sharks Story.
      BBC Wildlife Magazine Article
     Mysterious seal deaths

There was a big reaction from BBC Wildlife readers following the publication of a story in the October issue on the mysterious, fatal ‘corkscrew’ injuries that have been inflicted on British seals in the past two years.

This was followed by the transmission of a programme on Channel 5 about grey seals off Sable Island (a 44km sandbar about 150km off the coast of mainland Novia Scotia) that were also dying from mysterious ‘corkscrew’ wounds.

The programme, eventually, fingered the Greenland shark, better known as a cold-water Arctic scavenger than a hot-blooded predator.

Were the two cases related? Could Greenland sharks be taking out British seals?

Well, a bit of digging has revealed some interesting facts. First of all, British scientists do not consider the Greenland shark to be a credible answer to the mystery of our seal deaths.

They are only largely found under the polar ice cap, so a migration to the North Sea would take one well out of its usual range.

Second, not everyone agrees that Greenland sharks are behind the Sable Island seal deaths. BBC Wildlife has contacted two scientists who appeared in the Channel 5 film and who are two of the world’s experts on Greenland sharks.

In brief, they don’t believe that Greenland sharks are found around Sable Island, and they don’t see why they should attack and mutilate the seals without then eating them.

But according to Zoe Lucas, a naturalist who lives on Sable Island and the person who has done more than anyone to investigate this issue, Greenland sharks are still top of her agenda, and she and other scientists working on the issue have eliminated ships’ propellers as a possible cause.

You would have thought that it would be easy to determine how such extraordinary wounds are inflicted, but it appears not. In the meantime, BBC Wildlife will keep you up-to-date with any developments.

2.  Zoe Lucas

Claims to be a biologist and went to Sable Island to study the horses that live there. In an interview on her work by CBC Television she was asked what she did for a living ( how she sustained herself in such a remote place) clearly she was not funded by a grant from any research establishment. Her reply was as follows.

‘I work as a biologist conducting research and monitoring programs. If by "living" you mean what do I do for income, I conduct environmental monitoring programs for the offshore energy industry’

The offshore industry in question is as follows.

Shell Canada Ltd.
Esso Imperial Oil.
Pengrowth Energy Trust.
Mosbacher Operating Ltd.

These companies form a consortium that operate several gas platforms just offshore from Sable Island ( I didn’t see them in the channel 5 Program did you?)  Here is an extract from their web site.

‘The Sable Project is the largest construction project ever undertaken in Nova Scotia. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished. We’ve established an infrastructure that will be the basis of our production efforts for the future. Those efforts are changing the face of the Nova Scotia economy, and providing an alternative energy resource to consumers throughout the Maritimes and the Eastern United States.

‘The Sable Offshore Energy Project is divided into two 'tiers' of offshore development. The first tier was completed in December 1999 and involved the development of the The baud, North Triumph, and Venture fields, as well as the construction of three offshore platforms, an onshore gas plant and an onshore fractionation plant. Gas production commenced on December 31, 1999. Alma, the first Tier II platform came on stream in late 2003 while production from South Venture, the second field began late in 2004.’

3.  Finally an extract from this web site. 

 These scientists were involved in and clearly misrepresented by the Channel 5 program.

 The actual cause of the corkscrew wound is probably mechanical. If this is the case, the culprits are almost certainly dynamic positioning thrusters used by vessels associated with offshore drilling or construction. Such operations are present off all sites reporting corkscrew wounds. Seals are curious creatures often seen diving near shipwrecks and other man-made objects. The powerful suction effect produced by a thruster would easily overpower a seal that got too close. Unlike regular ship propellers that run continuously while a ship is at sea, thrusters operate on a need-only basis and thus turn on and off sporadically.

A curious seal inspecting the intake side of this odd tunnel-like object would have no chance if the power were suddenly turned on. Being sucked into the blades would either slice the hapless seal to death or produce the horrific wounds witnessed at Sable Island and in the UK. Some of the butchered seals may even survive and swim back to the beach to die.
The Greenland shark does leave a trademark wound on its victims but this most certainly isn't it. We therefore believe that corkscrew fatalities at Sable Island and in the UK are in fact unrelated to the Greenland shark.
Human activity is yet again the likely cause for these needless deaths. Who knows how many lifeless bodies didn’t actually make it to shore? Life is dangerous enough for seals without having to deal with giant underwater food processors. If I were a seal, I'd choose the shark. I would at least have a fighting chance to survive, and if I were defeated, my death would serve to sustain a fellow creature of the sea.

Godfrey Sayers  12/10/2010

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Seal Deaths Explained

After watching the recent Channel 5 program that looked at the seal deaths around Sable Island off the coast of Nova Scotia, I thought  that I might respond with a blog.  Then because the program’s conclusions were so obviously predetermined and the evidence for the case they were trying to make so flimsy and circumstantial, I decided not to bother.

However, since then a number of people have contacted me who actually seem to have been convinced by it and believe that the seal deaths and mutilations, both there and here on the North Norfolk coast could be caused by Greenland sharks- not North Sea sharks-Greenland sharks. This along with the story appearing on the BBC's Look East News this evening have changed my mind.
I do not think this shark explanation worthy of a lengthy debate, so a short analogy followed by a few facts that have to be reconciled if Greenland sharks are to be held responsible.

I must emphasise this analogy is purely hypothetical; I do not want to upset my farmer friends.

‘New and extremely large combine harvesters are now being used on the wide prairie fields of East Anglia, coincident with their arrival large numbers of mutilated hares start to be found in these same fields, all with very distinctive injuries. The makers of the combine harvesters deny that their machines are responsible, expert investigators think the mutilations may be caused by other machines, like tractors or farm workers bicycles, in fact anything but the newly arrived harvesters.

The injuries that are inflicted are identical with those found in the far north where arctic hares and polar bears coexist. The injuries to the hares there are thought to have been inflicted by Polar bears. Therefore, we can safely assume that the injuries being inflicted to the hares in East Anglia’s fields are also attributable to polar bears’. 

This is only slightly more ridiculous than the idea that Greenland sharks are responsible for the recent seal deaths on the North Norfolk coast of England.

  Facts that need to be reconciled if the theory that Grenland sharks are responsible is to stand up.
The figures for seal mutilations along the coast of Sable Island over several years amounted to some 5000 in total, if the injuries there are identical to those found here and from what was shown on the program that certainly seemed to be the case, then apart from the spiral cut from nose to tail all the meat on the animals remained intact. Why would hungry sharks attack so many seals and then not consume them? 

The injuries on the North Norfolk coast began on a specific date and coincidentally and significantly ceased on another, the day the publicity surrounding the deaths broke. So, a large pod of frenzied Greenland sharks traveled hundreds of miles from their natural habitat to come on a killing spree, then despite having used up large amounts of energy getting here returned without seeking to replenish their reserves on the seal meat their killings had provided?

Greenland sharks like the Great White have never been reported in the southern North Sea, they are slow moving cold-water scavengers and opportunist feeders, the seal deaths around Sable Island are difficult to explain but Greenland sharks are probably the least likely culprits. The injuries there as here are clearly commensurate with some kind of large ducted propeller. The owners of vessels that have these things are usually large multi-national organisations that are too just big to be brought to book (BP excepted). So instead of a just and sensible result 'that just might' ensure that no more seals are killed in this terrible way we get a load of pseudo-scientific nonsense and more worryingly, a willingness by some to accept it. 

4. Those who believe in Global Warming (I suspect they are also likely to believe this fairy tale) will tell you that the North Sea is getting warmer, conditions hardly likely to induce a cold water species like the Greenland shark to venture south. 
What is needed here is a conclusive explanation and today it was given to me. 

While enjoying my morning swim in the sea today I was startled by an enormous submarine surfacing just offshore. A heavily braided officer appeared on deck and hailed me. I swam out to him and he asked me if any dead and mutilated seals had been washed up in the area. I confirmed that there had been. 

He then confessed that his submarine was fitted with a kort nozzle propulsion system, and that his vessel was undoubtedly responsible. He said he was terribly sorry about it but that he had now put grills over his drives and so could promise (unless he had to take them off again for some reason) that no more seals would be killed. 

As he left to go below, I called out ‘What is the name of your vessel’?
‘ Nautilus’ he called back, I’m Captain Nemo

If you believe this then you will probably also believe the North Sea to be infested with Greenland sharks.