Grey and harbour seals in France: distribution at sea, connectivity and trends in abundance at haulout sites

Cécile Vincent, Mathilde Huon, Florence Caurant, Willy Dabin, Armel Deniau, Stéphane Dixneuf, Laetitia Dupuis, Jean-François Elder, Marie-Hélène Fremau, Sami Hassani, Audrey Hemon, Jacky Karpouzopoulos, Cécile Lefeuvre, Bernie J. McConnell, Simon E. W. Moss, Pascal Provost, Jérôme Spitz, Yannis Turpin, Vincent Ridoux

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Grey (Halichoerus grypus) and harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) are sympatric seal species, but they display distinct strategies of habitat use and connectivity between haulout sites. The distribution patterns and variations in relative abundance of both species were investigated along the French coast of the English Channel, at the southern limit of their range where seal numbers are increasing. Regular censuses conducted at all main haulout sites in mainland France showed significant seasonal variations at most sites, with more harbour seals counted during summer (breeding and moulting seasons), and more grey seals during summer only in the eastern English Channel. Trends in maximum haulout numbers at haulout sites showed a significant increase over the last five years, ranging from 9.7 to 30.9% per year for harbour seals, and from 5.8% (in the western English Channel) to 49.2% (in the eastern English Channel) per year for grey seals. These rates of increase in grey seal numbers are not linked to local pup production and most probably result from seal movements from the southwest British Isles and the North Sea, respectively. Aerial surveys conducted across the English Channel showed that most seal observations at sea were concentrated in the north-eastern English Channel. Telemetry showed that the 28 harbour seals tracked remained highly coastal, within a radius of 100 km from their haulout sites, and did not move to other known colonies. Grey seals moved much greater distances, reaching up to 1200 km from their capture site. More than half of the 45 grey seals tracked crossed the English Channel, especially during the breeding season, moving to known colonies in the southwest British Isles and the North Sea. Combining individual tracks and long-term surveys of the seal populations allowed a better understanding of the dynamics of these populations and their connectivity at a larger regional scale. The findings provide direct information for the management of grey and harbour seals within the frame of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, and highlight focus areas where potential interactions between the two species should be monitored.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)294-305
JournalDeep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography
Early online date11 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


  • Tracking
  • Telemetry
  • Density
  • Census
  • Management units
  • English Channel
  • MSFD


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