This morning, Marine Scotland has published a report on approaches for modelling harbour seal movement. This type of information is important because it may be able to help predict the consequences of environmental change, such as the establishment and operation of marine renewable energy, on the distribution and movement of seal populations.
The work, undertaken by the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at the University of St Andrews, investigated two modelling approaches:
- An Inter-Haulout Transition Rate (I-HTR) model, which uses data from tagged seals to quantify the frequency of movement between haulout sites.
- A prototype Individual Based Model (IBM), which extended the work of the I-HTR to consider the causes of movement.
Both models used telemetry data from harbour seals tracked in the Orkney and Pentland Firth area. Where the I-HTR made inferences about the frequency of movement of the local population of seals, as well as movement of the larger population, it did not consider the causes of movement and was unable to predict the consequences of environmental change.
However the IBM Model, although in the very early stages of development, monitored activity over a number of weeks and demonstrated the ability to capture the basic movement patterns and behaviour that are observed in harbour seal telemetry data.