According to preliminary data, around 1,000 gray seal babies were born this winter on the German North Sea coast and on the offshore island of Heligoland. The number of births is again at a high level, as the national park administrations in Wilhelmshaven and Tönning and the Jordsand association for Helgoland told the German Press Agency.
The gray seal is Germany's largest predator. According to the Nature Conservation Union (Nabu), the species was heavily hunted in this country 100 years ago and almost wiped out regionally. Today, around 30,000 animals live on the coasts of the entire Baltic Sea alone thanks to a hunting ban and better water quality. According to data from the Wadden Sea Secretariat, there are around 9,000 in the entire Wadden Sea from the Netherlands to Denmark.
Census by drone
The young are counted during the birthing season from November to January during census flights along the coasts. They are easy to recognize because of their initially white fur. On Helgoland, the offspring are counted from the beaches and with drones.
In December, a total of 1036 gray seals were registered during two counting flights in the Lower Saxony Wadden Sea National Park, including 393 young animals. "That was almost 40 fewer young animals than in the previous year, but 50 more adult animals were sighted," said Thea Hamm from the National Park Administration in Wilhelmshaven. "I would think that's a relatively natural fluctuation." The trend towards an ever larger population continues.
In Schleswig-Holstein, most gray seals are born on the dunes off Helgoland. "We're definitely having a good year," said Jordsand's Rebecca Ballstaedt. The exact dates are not yet available. The count from the beach is becoming more and more dangerous because of the increasing number of animals - and is therefore no longer carried out daily. At peak times, more than 1,300 animals, some of which are highly aggressive, lie on the beaches of Heligoland.
spread to the east
Most of the gray seals in the Lower Saxony National Park live on the Kachelotplate, a sandbank between the East Frisian islands of Juist and Borkum. "The gray seals are slowly spreading to the east," said Thea Hamm. In the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park, berths can be found in particular on the Jungnamensand and the Knobsands between Amrum and Sylt.
According to the Nabu, gray seals (Halichoerus grypus) weigh up to 300 kilograms. They owe their name to the cone-shaped head. The animals hunted for fish such as herring, cod and flatfish and would embark on dives lasting up to 20 minutes. Young animals with their white, long-haired baby fur - called lanugo - cannot swim at first, only after the change of fur at about four weeks do they go into the water.