Thursday 26 April 2018

Canary Wharf top hotspot for Thames seal watchers

Conservationists and volunteers have been carrying out an annual seal survey in the Greater Thames Estuary since 2013
Conservationists and volunteers have been carrying out an annual seal survey in the Greater Thames Estuary since 2013
Seals resting on mud flats at low tide, close to the Isle of Sheppey in the Thames Estuary

Canary Wharf is a hotspot for seeing marine mammals such as seals in the Thames Estuary, according to results from a 10-year survey.

Seals and porpoises have been recorded in central London between the Houses of Parliament and the O2 Arena, dolphins have been seen as far upstream as Teddington Lock in West London, and seals spotted swimming past Hampton Court Palace.

But though it is better-known as a financial centre than one for wildlife, more sightings of marine mammals were reported by the public around the docks and wharfs of Canary Wharf than any area along the Thames Estuary in the past decade .

Results from the Thames marine mammals sightings survey by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which has been recording sightings by the public since 2004, comes as ZSL experts conduct the latest population assessment of seals in the estuary.

Conservationists and volunteers have been carrying out an annual seal survey since 2013 by land, sea and air in the Greater Thames Estuary to track how their numbers are doing in the south east of England, with the results expected in a few weeks.

This year teams have covered more than 4,000 square kilometres (1,500 square miles) between Deal in Kent and Felixstowe in Suffolk for the count, which coincides with the annual August moult when harbour seals shuffle onto sandbanks to shed their coat and grow a new layer of fur for the winter.

Both surveys are part of efforts to help understand and protect marine mammals in the Thames Estuary.

The marine mammal sightings survey has also revealed large groups of whales have been spotted in the estuary, including 30 pilot whales last November near Clacton-on-Sea.

A pod of eight harbour porpoises were spotted swimming in the river near Kew Gardens in May 2009 while 10 bottlenose dolphins were seen near Deptford in April 2006.

Sightings of three otters were also reported to the survey, a report from ZSL revealed.

In total 2,732 marine mammals were spotted over the 10 years, with harbour seals the most commonly seen animal. Some 1,080 harbour seals were reported, as well as 333 grey seals and 823 unknown types of seal.

Joanna Barker, European conservation projects manager at ZSL, said: "People are often surprised to hear that marine mammals are regularly spotted in central London.

"As a top predator, their presence is a good sign that the Thames is getting cleaner and supporting many fish species.

"The presence of these animals is also a great example of how urban environments are important for wildlife."

She added: "We were pleased to see that harbour seals were some of the most commonly spotted animals.

"Their numbers have dramatically declined in some parts of Scotland, so the fact that they are frequently sighted in the Thames Estuary confirms that the South East is an important area for their conservation."

She also urged people to take part in the ongoing public survey at

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