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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.


  1. Whilst I remain open minded about the cause of the corkscrew deaths of seals I think it is worth considering the below link which is a scientific paper dating from "1880" which indicates that in at least some parts of the North Sea that Greenland Sharks were common and "infested" the mouths of the Forth and Tay estuaries.

    Some of the recent discoveries about the Greenland Shark's diet mentioned on the Stable Island programme were in fact a reinvention of the wheel, discovered by Dr Turner all these years ago. These studies were not from sharks in the high Arctic, but from sharks taken in the North Sea off the Scottish coast.

  2. The below link claims that in Victorian times and early in the 20th century, Greenland sharks were occasionaly caught off the Yorkshire coast and in the central North Sea. However, they have been extremely rare since.

    During the late 19th century, Greenland Shark fisheries were started in Greenland, Iceland and Norway, all after the shark's oil. By 1910 in Greenland alone some 30,000 greenland sharks were taken annually. These fisheries operated up until about 1960.

    Has there been a contraction in numbers and range since Victorian times on account of over-fishing? Are numbers and range now increasing due to the abandonment of most of the fishing for these creatures?

    Whatever is causing the corkscrew injuries to seals along our coastline, the occurrence of Greenland Sharks is not as strange as we would believe.