More than 10,000 seals live in the Netherlands. The vast majority of them swim in the Wadden Sea and then there is a handful that lives in the Zeeland delta.
This is not so surprising because the Wadden areas, the Dutch coastal areas, are an excellent home for mammals such as the seal.
One half of the time they live under water hunting for their next meal and the other half of the time they prefer to lie lazy rather than tired on a sandbank. This makes the shallow Wadden Sea with its tides an excellent home for this exceptional animal.
The seal, was an endangered species
Since the beginning of time, the seal has been present in large numbers in the Wadden Sea.
They haven’t always been an endangered species. This only became distressing when during the Middle Ages the seal was hunted so much that it almost disappeared from the Wadden area altogether.
Seals were killed for their flesh and their fat came in handy as lamp oil. But that wasn’t the only reason they were hunted. For fishermen they were a plague, because often they got caught in nets and traps. But even worse for the fishermen was the fact that these grey hunters stole a lot of fish in front of them.
An adult seal easily eats 5 to 8 kilos of fish a day and the fishermen were happy to blame these animals for their poor catch. Somewhere in the middle of the 16th century it was decided to award premiums for catching and killing seals.
Paying for seal hunting only came to an end just over 50 years ago. But that did not endanger their survival. Payments were no longer made, but young seals were still caught in large numbers and clubbed down for their soft white fur.
Because almost only puppies were killed, hardly any seals became adults. Therefore, in the 1960s, seal hunting was banned in the Netherlands altogether. Since then, they have had a protected status and the Netherlands provides protected areas where these animals can raise their young undisturbed.
How do we know how many seals there are?
Every year in August in the Netherlands an official seal count is done over the entire wadden region, as they do in Germany and Denmark. This is done from the air with small planes commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.
Aerial counting at an altitude of 150 metres is far from accurate, despite digital equipment and GPS coordinates. You can only count the seals that are currently lying on a sandbank. That is why several measuring moments are held each year.
In all calculations, 35% is added, which according to the experts is approximately the number of seals that are floundering in the sea during the count and therefore have not been spotted. Globally, it is possible to keep track of the growth or shrinkage of these Wadden Sea inhabitants.
Which seal species live in the Wadden Sea?
In the Wadden Sea there are two species of seals, the common seal and the cone seal. The cone seal, which owes its name to the pointed shape of its head, only made its comeback in the Wadden Sea after the weather was completely safe. Until that time it was only found in England. This is the most curious of the two species.
If you see one swimming along a ship, it’s probably this particular seal. Curious is not its only characteristic, it is an aggressive hunter and also the largest predator in this part of the North Sea.
His colleague the ‘common’ seal is in comparison a real lobes. With his round head and big eyes you can see no harm in it, but for both: No matter how languid and cuddly they look bathing in the sun, swimming at speeds of up to 40 km per hour, they can rightly be called the king of the Wadden Sea.
Together these two species make the mudflats a breeding ground all year round, the grey seal gets its young in summer and the cone seal in winter.
Thanks to shelters, the seals can continue to exist
Thanks to the timely intervention and the setting up of shelters such as those in Pieterburen and Ecomare on Texel, the seal survived. The Wadden Island countries have jointly decided to fence off parts of the Wadden area, so that the seal can live there in peace and quiet. Of course that is very important for the survival of its species.