The grey seal count for 2017 in the Baltic Sea was above 30 000 individuals. According to the IUCN, the counted animals are thought to be 60-80% of the total population, given that not all seals are on land during the count. Even before the Second World War, the size of the Baltic grey seal population was estimated at around 100 000 individuals (Rydén et al. 2003, Kauhala et al 2014).
Densities are generally greater in the northern Baltic Sea than in the southern Baltic Sea (HELCOM SEAL 2017). The count for central Sweden and southwestern Finnish archipelago was close to 20000 animals in total in 2014, while the count for southern Sweden/Danish Baltic Sea area was approximately 2500. The estimate for the German Baltic is approximately 100 animals, and for Poland around 400 animals. Restoration of the Polish population of the grey seal is the result of many years of efforts of the Hel Marine Station of the University of Gdańsk, conducting a reintroduction program of this species on the Polish coast.
In line with Art. 14-16 of the EU Habitats Directive, hunt on specific seal populations can be allowed, under strict conditions, provided that the conservation status of the population is monitored to ensure that it is maintained at a favourable conservation status. Based on this, grey seal hunt is only allowed in Sweden (600 animals), Finland (1050), Åland (450), Estonia (37) and Denmark (only Bornholm, 40).
However within 2017-2018 several incidents of suspected deliberate illegal killing of grey seals were observed in Lithuania (26), Germany (23-27, Rugen), Finland (2, Hamina), Poland (>10, Eastern Pomerania) and Russia (3, Kaliningrad). In Finland, entangled seals were abandoned at sea with a gear. In many cases, human efforts to remove predators have led to ecosystem effects that were not intended (Lennox et al. 2018). There is a great risk that increased killings of grey seal in the Baltic Sea will have effects on the already beset Baltic ecosystem, that we cannot foresee today.
CCB position with these regards is as follows:
- Un-authorized killing and especially committing alleged violations of seals hunt ban (including grey seal) is a crime!
- Regulation of grey seal population as an extraordinary measure can be acceptable only in cases of grey seal density being confirmed to be above safe ecological level.
- Authorities must thoroughly investigate all cases of suspected killing of seals and prosecute the convicted.
- Adequate measures minimising loss of seals’ population (e.g. bycatch, pollution and illegal hunt) must be taken.