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Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2007, 16:45 GMT
Islands seal numbers show decline
common seal
Researchers said the decline was a cause of concern
Populations of harbour seals in Orkney and Shetland have declined by about 40% over the past five years, according to new research.

The decline, whose causes are unknown, has emerged in a study carried out by the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews.

The results, due to be published in the Journal of Zoology, come from long-term monitoring of seal populations.

The seals on the west coast did not appear to be affected in the same way.

'Open mind'

Professor Ian Boyd, director of the research unit, said: "Further work needs to be done to confirm the scale of the declines that have been detected.

"An apparent decline of 40% in five years is a cause of considerable concern.

"We have no evidence that there has been a short-term, catastrophic event, like an epidemic, but we retain an open mind about what might be the cause."

He said it was not possible to yet suggest a plausible explanation for the reduction, or whether the reduction was a short term or longer term phenomenon.

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