Marine mammals topic sheet: recovery and reporting of seals to the Strandings Scheme

How to recover, collect, examine and report seal carcases to the Scottish Strandings Scheme.

Recovery and reporting of seals to the Scottish strandings scheme

The University of Glasgow currently holds a contract to record and investigate seal strandings in Scotland.

This work is funded by the Scottish Government and is designed to support the new seal licensing system.


You should take all reasonable steps to recover the carcases of seals killed under licence, or to alleviate suffering. Much detailed information can be gained from a seal carcase, including positive species identification, age, sex, diet, etc. Even a carcase which has been in the water for several days should be retrieved wherever possible.

When you have a carcase to be recovered:

  • Ensure that you are not putting yourself in danger
  • Wear suitable heavy-duty gloves
  • Move the seal carcase above the high water mark, away from water to a discreet location to avoid carcase being washed away and any risk to public health
  • If necessary cover carcase
  • Make careful note of its exact location
  • After handling, wash and disinfect yourself thoroughly.


You should report details of any seal carcase

Please include: 

  • the OS grid reference
  • site details
  • your address
  •  your telephone number

Send these to: 

Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Programme

Any other seal carcases discovered can also be reported.

It is important that the report is made by someone who has actually seen the seal carcase so that the best possible description of the condition, size etc. of the animal is available.

The use of digital photographs can be of great benefit in allowing assessment of the freshness of the carcase. Many people now have mobile phones with cameras and, if possible, pictures should be sent to the Stranding’s Co-ordinator.

This along with accurate location data and an estimate of the size of the carcase is very valuable. Local knowledge of suitable access for collection is also useful.

It is possible that some seal carcases which are too badly decomposed or too difficult to recover may not be collected.

Any other seal or marine mammal carcases discovered should also be reported via this route.


Seals can be very heavy with adult grey male seals reaching over 200 Kg. Common seals are smaller and the adult male will rarely reach 100 Kg.

This means that mechanical assistance is generally required for recovering a seal carcase. A four wheel drive with a winch in the loading platform is used to collect seals for examination.


Seal carcases that have been collected are taken to the laboratory at the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme where they are subject to an examination.

This is to establish the cause of death and to collect samples in order to increase knowledge of these animals. For example, food remains in the seals stomach can be used to find out what it was eating. The inner ear bones of fish are very hard and remain in the stomach long after the fish tissue and skeleton have been digested.

These can be used to identify both species and provide an estimate of the size of the fish eaten. Information on the reproductive status of the seal can also be gathered and examination of teeth can provide age estimates.

If you have problems disposing of any unwanted seal carcases you should seek advice from the local office of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

More information

You can find out more about this by visiting other pages on this website, the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Programme and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency


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