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Keywords:

  • behaviour;
  • estuaries;
  • fisheries interactions;
  • grey seals;
  • harbour seals

Detailed observations of the behaviour of harbour seals, Phoca vitulina L., at sites within the estuaries of the Rivers Dee and Don, in north-eastern Scotland, were made over two full years between 1993 and 1996. Small numbers of grey seals, Halichoerus grypus Fab., were also present. The presence of seals within the estuaries was strongly related to season, with maximum numbers observed in winter and early spring; seals were virtually absent in June and July. The River Don was used largely as a haul-out site, while the River Dee was used predominantly as a foraging site, although it was not possible to determine whether the same seals were using the two estuaries. More seals were hauled-out on the River Don during twilight and dark than in daylight. The seals were observed to eat mostly salmonids, Salmo salar L. and S. trutta L., unidentified roundfish and flounder, Pleuronectes flesus L. The otoliths identified in scats collected at the mouth of the River Don belonged to marine species indicating that the seals were also feeding outside the estuaries. A minimum estimate is given of the numbers of large salmonids eaten in each river during the course of the year. Although no information was available on the numbers of salmonids using the rivers or the reproductive status of the fish eaten by the seals, as a cause of mortality, seal predation on large salmonids in estuaries is apparently an order of magnitude less important than mortality caused by angling within the river.