The key to grey seal identification is the pattern of the fur as it is as unique as human fingerprints. Using photographs these fur patterns can be squared to find a match. This method is known as Photo-Identification or short photo-ID.
Examples of the grey seal Photo-ID
The Personal Seal Sheet needs a set of three clear images of the individual animal in order to find a 100% match between the seal and the random photograph. Here is an example of how a set of Photo-ID images look like. The Personal Seal Sheets of Lilo and Mya have the needed set of identification pictures, which can be used as a basis for Photo-ID
Not always easy
The Photo-ID has its restrictions. Sometimes the animals are covered in sand or the sun reflects on the fur, thus hiding parts or the whole fur pattern, the Photo-ID is based on. The fur pattern of young seals can change slightly during the growth process in terms of contrast and size of the spots. Flipper-tags may aid in the identification process, especially during the first years of a seals life.
Numbered seals – Flipper-tags – but why?
Seals are tagged by trained personel only. In this case it is the ranger that takes care and is in charge of the wildlife in this area.
Since pups have an white coat (=Lanugo) without fur patterns during the first weeks of life, individual recognition via Photo-ID is impossible.These tags help to keep track of the seals during this period and also are an aid when observing individuals to decide whether a pup may be in need of help, for example when the mother animal abandoned it during this critical time of nursing.
Flipper-tags on older seals help to determine the age and origin of an individual.
Can you spot the difference?
Try to identify some of the seals in this short quiz!