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New denials over Norfolk seal deaths

PUBLISHED: 08:00 23 August 2010 | UPDATED: 09:28 16 September 2010

The seals were killed by deep “corkscrew” wounds which began at the neck and spiralled around the body.

The seals were killed by deep “corkscrew” wounds which began at the neck and spiralled around the body.

Chris Hill

Allegations that the construction of a wind farm was “probably to blame” for a mysterious spate of seal deaths have been denied by scientists, energy bosses and harbour authorities.

Allegations that the construction of a wind farm was “probably to blame” for a mysterious spate of seal deaths have been denied by scientists, energy bosses and harbour authorities.

The claim was made in a Sunday Times story about the 38 mutilated carcasses which have washed up on the coast between Wells and Blakeney since December,

The seals were killed by deep “corkscrew” wounds which began at the neck and spiralled around the body.

The deaths are being investigated by agencies including Norfolk Police and the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) in Fife, close to where other seals with similar wounds have been found in Scotland.

Links were suggested between Norfolk's unexplained deaths and service vessels for the Sheringham Shoal offshore wind farm, which is being built 12 miles north of Wells.

But last night Dr David Thompson of the SMRU told the EDP that he felt the Sunday Times article was wrong to imply that he considered wind farm traffic was the most likely cause simply because he had been unable to rule it out.

He said. “We cannot say it is definitely wind farms, because we have the same injuries on seals up here in St Andrews Bay, and we have no wind farm. Of course, that does not rule out the possibility the injuries could be from wind farm boats, but it could equally be associated with boat traffic for anything else.”

Dr Thompson said he believed ducted propellers, an increasingly common feature on boat engines where the blades are contained within a metal casing, had caused the injuries. But said the investigation was no closer to establishing what kind of vessels the engines were attached to, or why the seals had appeared to approach them head first.

“A lot of boats use these propellers, and the incidents in the winter could not have been caused by wind farm boats, because they were not there until April,” he said.

“We are pretty sure of the mechanism, but that's as far as we can go at the moment. I don't think there can be a single, simple explanation for it.”

A spokesman for Statoil, the Norwegian energy firm backing the £1bn wind farm project, said: “The key fact is that the seal deaths began in December 2009, well before we began our offshore operations, which started in March.

“We have carried out our own investigation where we checked all the equipment operating on our site. We concluded that, to our knowledge, none of our equipment could be associated with the seal deaths.”

Meanwhile, an online statement was published by the Wells Harbour Commissioners (WHC) which also pointed out “mistaken assumptions” relating to the timing of its work to build a new outer harbour for wind farm service vessels.

It explains that boats using ducted propellers “had operated from Wells for many years with no such problems reported”.

Insp Mike Brown, of Norfolk Police, told the EDP last week that offshore installation machinery and the dredger which is used to maintain the channel to the new harbour were both “unlikely” to have caused the wounds.

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