Increasing numbers of harbour seals and grey seals in the Solent

Robyne Castles, Fiona Woods, Peter Hughes, John Arnott, Louise MacCallum, Sarah Marley*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) and grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) both occur within the UK, but display regional contrasting population trends. While grey seals are typically increasing in number, harbour seals have shown varying trends in recent decades following repeated pandemics. There is a need for monitoring of regional and local populations to understand overall trends. This study utilized a 20-year dataset of seal counts from two neighboring harbours in the Solent region of south England. Generalized additive models showed a significant increase in the numbers of harbour (mean 5.3–30.5) and grey (mean 0–12.0) seals utilizing Chichester Harbour. Conversely, in Langstone Harbour there has been a slight decrease in the number of harbour seals (mean 5.3–4.0). Accompanying photographic data from 2016 to 18 supports the increase in seal numbers within Chichester Harbour, with a total of 68 harbour and 8 grey seals identified. These data also show evidence of site fidelity of harbour seals in this area, with almost a quarter of animals resighted within the past three years. Overall, this long-term study indicates an increasing number of both harbour and grey seals within the Solent. However, more research is required to identify the drivers of this trend.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16524-16536
Number of pages13
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number23
Early online date18 Nov 2021
Publication statusPrint publication - Dec 2021


  • grey seals
  • harbour seals
  • photographic identification
  • population dynamics


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