Corkscrew seals: Grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) infanticide and cannibalism may indicate the cause of spiral lacerations in seals

A Brownlow, J Onoufriou, A Bishop, N Davison, D Thompson

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Large numbers of dead seals with characteristic spiral lesions have been washing ashore around the North Atlantic over the past two decades. Interactions with ship propellers and shark predation have been suggested as the likely causal mechanisms. However, new evidence points towards a more likely candidate: grey seal predation. An adult male grey seal was observed and recorded catching, killing and eating five weaned grey seal pups over a period of one week on the Isle of May, Scotland. A further 9 carcasses found in the same area exhibited similar injuries. Post mortem analysis of lesions indicated the wound characteristics were similar to each other and in 12 of the 14 carcasses analysed, were indistinguishable from carcasses previously attributed to propeller interaction. We therefore propose that most of the seal carcasses displaying spiral lacerations in the UK are caused by grey seal predation. Cases in other locations should be re-evaluated using the scoring system presented here to identify whether grey seal predation is a major cause of mortality in phocid seals.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0156464
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number6
Early online date2 Jun 2016
Publication statusFirst published - 2 Jun 2016


  • Animal sexual behaviour
  • Fresh water
  • Lesions
  • Predation
  • Scotland
  • Seals
  • Skull
  • Traumatic injury


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