Pregnant grey seal found with possible bullet wound in its head
A seal found on a beach in Kent arrived at the Museum for inspection, and scientists have now found a piece of metal embedded in its skull.
Scientists at the Museum were in the process of dissecting a mature female grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) when they found a fragment of metal embedded in its head, which may be the cause of death.
It is possible that the small fragment is a bullet. The Museum has contacted the RSPCA, who are now investigating.
The adult grey seal was found dead in Walpole Bay in Margate on 21 May and was brought to the Museum for study. Several scientific projects are relying on the opportunity to work with the large specimen.
After initial dissection work to remove the organs, other investigations of the body took place.
A metal fragment was found to have pierced the skull. The object will have to be investigated to determine whether it is a bullet or other metal contaminant.
The animal is thought to have been around 20 years old, based on indicators such as size (around 2.10 metres long) and tooth condition. The only visible sign of trauma was to the head.
The metal object has been reported to the RSPCA, who are now investigating this case.
Seals are protected in the UK. There are certain circumstances that allow for individual animals to be 'controlled' under exceptionally strict conditions, and there are known cases of illegal seal shootings.
Museum scientists also discovered that the seal had been pregnant, when they found a small embryo that had begun to develop. Grey seals give birth to one pup at a time.
Grey seals and common seals (Phoca vitulina) can be spotted on coasts around the UK and both breed in British waters. In the UK females come ashore to give birth in autumn and winter.
Why was the seal being dissected?
Scientists are planning to study the grey seal specimen for a number of projects taking place across the Museum. The dissection of the seal was a collaborative effort, and much of the animal is being preserved for future scientific study.
The team are searching for evidence of parasites externally and internally, as well as looking at the bones and musculature of the animal.
The stomach contents of the seal are being investigated for evidence of plastics. Scientists are looking for large pieces of plastic that may have accidently been ingested, and microplastics that may have moved up the food chain from fish that the animal hunted.