Grey Seals in Poland – Preservation
Grey seals are one of the endangered species living in the Baltic Sea and as such they’re protected by both local and international laws. Now, before we go any further, I think it would be important to explain what it means that the species is classified as endangered. Endangered species are at risk of become extinct if protective measures aren’t taken and those can vary greatly, depending on the species. In some cases all that needs to be done is to just ban hunting them and to protect their natural habitats, but in other cases it means breeding animals in captivity and once a certain population size is reached, releasing them into the wild.
In case of the grey seals, their world population is classified as one of the least at risk of becoming extinct, but in case of the ones living in the Baltic Sea they’re classified in all of the national red books (lists of the species under protection and endangered) as endangered and in Poland as critically endangered. This means that the species may become extinct in the coming years or decades or its population is so small that extreme measures need to be taken.
One may ask why we care so much about those species and why we need to protect them. First of all, the seals in the Baltic Sea are an important part of the food web, a net of food chains connecting all the species, both of plants and animals, existing in a given ecosystem. The lack of one of its links often means that other links start to fall apart. On their own, a great reduction in numbers or extinction of any given species can throw the food web into disarray. With seals this is even more important because they are a keystone species. Usually located at the top of a particular food chain, these species, have a disproportionate effect on the ecosystem and keep the whole net together. These species eat other species and keep their population under control and thus maintain the balance of predators and prey.
One would ask, they eat other species, so aren’t they a competition for fishermen? Yes and no, it is true that they eat fish out of the nets, but more importantly they keep the general population of fish healthier and stop one type of fish from dominating the sea – only the strongest survive. It may sound strange, but even if they hunt the same food as we do, fish, their existence in big numbers helps us.
That’s the general explanation of the ecosystem and how seals affect it, now let’s take a better look at Polish population of them and compare it to the claims of the fishermen and other populations. According to the counting of the seals conducted in 2016 by the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission the total population of seals was 32 thousand, with most of them living in the northern parts of the Baltic Sea due to favourable living conditions, and population counted in Polish waters and on the Polish shore was estimated to be under 20. However the biggest population ever spotted on Polish shore was 300, as reported by WWF. This compared to the population of over 15 thousand living in Sweden is almost nothing. In absolute numbers 300 is just 2% of 15 thousand.
Fishermen blame the seals for eating fish out of their nets and this cannot be denied, but as I mentioned earlier seals are an important element of an ecosystem and for them nets full of fish are basically a free meal. And many fishermen openly mention that they kill and hunt down the seals for being, as they say, a pest, and want the government to allow hunting. While it is allowed in Sweden, those two situations cannot be compared. In Poland seals were gone for some time, in Sweden they were never even close to extinction, in Poland they don’t have as good conditions as they have in Sweden and hunting some down would simply mean some would move from Sweden.
Even if hunting seals in Sweden is a controversial thing and has its pros and cons, it is first of all legal and secondly it is overseen and controlled by the government which means that only a limited number of animals is killed and no more. While here the seals are killed, or rather murdered, in secret, in a manner that is unethical. As mentioned before under Polish law seals are a protected species and as such killing one is punishable by three years in prison.
It is worth mentioning that someone is killing these animals. As of now the police hasn’t caught the person behind several dead seals found on beaches. At the same time in the Seal Sanctuary located on Hel peninsula a team of researchers treats ill and wounded seals found on the Polish coast as well as breeds them in captivity and releases young ones into the sea to help rebuild the population.