Offshore wind turbines may have become the go-to place for food for marine animals such as seals, according to a new study, which also said that some seals deliberately seek out and forage around such structures.
As part of the study, published in the journal Current Biology on Monday, researchers from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland gathered data about harbor seals and grey seals in the North Sea, and with the help of GPS devices attached to these animals, tracked the seals’ movements around the British and Dutch coasts, especially around wind farms and underwater pipelines.
“I was shocked when I first saw the stunning grid pattern of a seal track around Sheringham Shoal (an offshore wind farm in Norfolk),” Deborah Russell, a post-doctoral research fellow at the Scottish Oceans Institute at St Andrews, said in a statement. “You could see that the seal appeared to travel in straight lines between turbines, as if he was checking them out for potential prey and then stopping to forage at certain ones.”
According to researchers, studies have been conducted in the past to observe the behavior of marine mammals near offshore man-made structures such as wind farms, but this is the first time that it has been determined that some seals “have an affinity with the structures themselves.”
“From the data we can infer that these individuals are foraging at the structures, likely as a result of a reef effect,” Russell said. “The behavior observed could have implications for both offshore wind farm developments and the decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure.”
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Meanwhile, Russell also said that while the findings of the study are notable, harm to marine wildlife from the development or presence of man-made structures in the ocean cannot be ruled out.
“It is during the construction phase that wind farms are predicted to have the most dramatic negative effect on marine mammals,” Russell said. “However, future development of such structures “could be designed to maximize any potential ecological benefits to marine wildlife.”