Record number of gray seals counted off Estonian coast in 2022

A record number of gray seals have been counted off Estonia's coast this year, the Environmental Board says.

A total of 6,031 specimens were counted, the highest figure since the current count methodology was rolled-out across the Baltic Sea region countries, in 1999.

The average number of gray seals in Estonian waters for 2019-2021 was around 5,500.

The largest increases in numbers were found on the north coast of the island of Hiiumaa, and on the west coast of neighboring Saaremaa, while noticeable growth has been seen in the Gulf of Riga more broadly, and also in parts of the Gulf of Finland, such as Krassi island.

Gray seal hunting has been permitted in Estonia since 2015, with cull quotas set annually by the Environmental Board ((Keskkonnaagentuur), at one percent of the average counted for the preceding three years – for 2022 the figure stands at 55 animals, meaning the average total of gray seals found off Estonia during the preceding three years was around 5,550.

The gray seal (Halichoerus grypus) is one of two seal species to be found off the Estonian coast, the other being the ringed seal (Pusa hispida).

 It is the largest mammal species which permanently inhabits the Baltic Sea; adult males can weigh over 300kg and grow up to 3m in length.

They undertake long-range feeding trips and other movements across the entire Baltic.

The counting period for 2022 covering the Baltic Sea ran May 25 - June 6, though the Baltic Sea-wide results are not yet known.

It is thought that 2021's figure of upward of 40,000 specimens will have risen since then.

In the early 20th century, numbers are estimated at more than double that, at 80,000-100,000, while numbers dropped to a low in the 1970s, largely as the result of human activity. Since then, pollution reduction and wildlife protection actions have seen a rally in numbers, which looks set to have continued for this year.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov

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