The first grey seal pup of the new season has been born on the Farne Islands off Northumberland – and that marks the start of a project to monitor fatalities among the animals.
Last year more than 1,600 seal pups were born on the Farne Islands, an increase on the previous year.
The total number for the colony was 4,800, making it England’s largest breeding population of grey seals.
The arrival comes just a few weeks before the start of the National Trust’s seal tours, which give people the chance to experience the trials and tribulations of a seal pup in its first weeks of life.
Visitors will be able to land on the seal colony for a close-up view of the animals.
The tours run from October 14-31 and cost £10 for adults and £5 for children. For more information go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk Births will peak in the coming weeks and some pups will turn up on beaches as they learn to swim and feed. The mother is usually not too far away.
Northumberland Wildlife Trust is therefore urging people who come across young seals to simply leave them alone.
The biggest risk they face is from disturbance, so owners are asked to ensure that any dogs are kept under control.
The trust is also asking for help from anyone who comes across a dead seal.
As the Atlantic grey seal is a notified feature of the Berwickshire & North Northumberland Coast European Marine Site (EMS), because of the international significance of the Farnes population, it is important that numbers are monitored. There is growing concern over an apparent rise in numbers of deaths, but this has not been formally monitored.
The wildlife charity is working with the Sea Mammal Research Unit at University of St Andrews, the Berwickshire and North Northumberland EMS and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) to investigate the cause of seal deaths along the coast.
Earlier this year, six headless seals were found on the Northumberland coast and it is feared that they may have been shot.
Anybody finding a dead seal should contact Steve Lowe, head of conservation at the trust on 0191 284 6884 or email email@example.com with details of the exact location and, if possible, a digital photo of the dead animal to help establish the cause of death.
Although a post-mortem examination is more accurate, a photograph will also be valuable and is a cost effective method of monitoring the issue.
Mr Lowe said: “This sounds like a grisly project but we think it is an extremely valuable approach that visitors to the coast can help with.
“The trust receives random reports of dead seals from the public but we hope this will increase reporting rates and help to establish what factors have the greatest impact upon seal numbers.
“Northumberland is lucky to host such an important breeding population of these animals, a feature that attracts many tourists to the area.
“The county therefore has a huge role to play in conserving this species and it’s important that we know what is affecting that in both positive and negative ways.”