- Published on Saturday, 19 April 2014 17:02
Baltic mammal protection
For several years the Słowiński National Park together with the Hel Marine Station of the Institute of Oceanography at the University of Gdańsk (www.hel.univ.gda.pl) take part in Baltic mammal protection and reintroduction programmes i.e. reintroduction of domestic population of grey seal in the Southern Baltic. This endangered species is close to extinction due to significant human activity at sea. The programme aims at restoring natural population condition from before 150 years.
Grey seals are bred in the Seal Sanctuary in Hel, and then released free to replace losses in population due to human activity at the Baltic Sea. Every year at the Park’s beach near Czołpino young grey seals are released. Some of them have satellite transmitters mounted at napes allowing for observing their migrations and behaviour in natural environment. Transmitters work for a year, and then they fall down with moulting when seal cast off their fur.
The Park’s services and researchers from the Hel Marine Station hope that released seals will come back, find a proper habitat in Southern Baltic regions, and breed there.
Apart from seal breeding the Marine Station also carries out educational activities for domestic and foreign visitors aimed at better understanding of various aspects of seals.
Grey seal reintroduction is not the only programme conducted in the Baltic Sea region. Another one is the United Nations Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Sea (ASCOBANS) for the purpose of protection of domestic porpoise population, i.e. short-beaked common dolphin, which population does not exceed 600! Therefore, one of the ASCOBANS purposes is to restore the porpoise population in the Baltic Sea. Poland as one of the Signatories of the Agreement undertakes porpoise protection measures. For the research purposes the Marine Station team uses porpoise detectors, called PODs, devices registering sounds produced by porpoises, to observe their migrations, estimate their number in a given group, and measure the depth of their feeding grounds. Another devices used in the Baltic porpoise protections are the so-called “pingers” – repellents mounted on fishnets to reduce the number of additional catch. However, currently pinger application is popular only among Danish fishers; let’s hope that this attitude will be also adopted here in Poland. Moreover, twice a year the services conduct air patrols to look for, count and estimate the number porpoises. Apart from active porpoise protection, ASCOBANS priority is also to educate inhabitants of the Baltic Sea and North Sea region. Researchers from Hel organise workshops and symposiums connected with biology, ecology, and hazards for porpoises to underline their importance as an element of sea ecosystems.
The presence of seals and porpoises in the Baltic Sea ensures maintenance of fragile trophic balance in sea ecosystems. One could even state that these animals play the same role in seas as wolves on lands. Moreover, they are excellent testers of environment purity.
Many years’ protection measures undertaken by the Hel Marine Station researchers show that grey seal population number is changing every year. However, due permanent lack of a peaceful place at Baltic coast due to massive appearance of humans, the animals cannot settle here permanently. This problem should be overcome with establishing Baltic protection districts (HELCOM BSPA), providing a peaceful and human-free place for breeding of these animals in their natural habitats.