The impact of the 1993 Braer oil spill on grey seals in Shetland

Ailsa J. Hall*, John Watkins, Lex Hiby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Signs of acute respiratory distress were reported in moulting grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) hauled out on Lady's Holm, Shetland, following the Braer oil spill in January, 1993. Behavioural observations carried out between 16 January and 13 February 1993 showed that the proportion of animals exhibiting a discharge of nasal mucus was significantly higher than the proportion at a control site in the north (Papa Stour). The proportion of animals affected on Lady's Holm increased for up to one month following the spill. However, the time lag between exposure and peak response was approximately 30 days, longer than may be expected for an acute effect. The proportion of non-specific signs of respiratory distress in unexposed Shetland seals was assessed from observations made between 16 January and 25 January 1994. Symptoms similar to those seen in 1993 were also reported during this period, but the proportion of affected animals was higher in 1993. Symptoms were not observed at a grey seal moult site on the east coast of England in March 1993 and 1994. Grey seals moulting in Shetland during the time of the oil spill may have been acutely affected by exposure to hydrocarbons, but without sufficient baseline data on the occurrence of respiratory distress in grey seals it is difficult to determine the proportion attributable to other causes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-125
Number of pages7
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jul 1996


  • Grey seals
  • Oil spill
  • Shetland


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