The effect of a large Danish offshore wind farm on harbor and gray seal haul-out behavior

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Abstract

This study investigates the effects of the construction and operation of a large Danish offshore wind farm on harbor and gray seal haul-out behavior within a nearby (4 km) seal sanctuary. Time-lapse photography, visual monitoring, and aerial surveys were used to monitor the number of seals on land in daylight hours. Seals were monitored during two preconstruction periods (19 June–31 August 2001 and April–August 2002), a construction period of the wind farm (August 2002–December 2003), and a period of operation of the wind farm (December 2003–December 2004). Monthly aerial surveys were conducted to estimate the proportion of seals in the sanctuary relative to neighboring haul-out sites. From preconstruction to construction and through the first year of operation the number of harbor seals in the sanctuary increased at the same rate as the number of seals at the neighboring haul-out sites. No long-term effects on haul-out behavior were found due to construction and operation of the wind farm. However, a significant short-term decrease was seen in the number of seals present on land during sheet pile driving in or near the wind farm. Acoustic deterrents were utilized simultaneously to avoid hearing damage.

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