Internal documents show that officials moved rapidly to release research suggesting that cannibal seals were to blame for causing the lethal spiral lacerations, rather than ships’ propellers. They planned to tip the shipping industry off about the research ahead of environmental groups, saying it required “careful handling”.
At least a hundred seals have been killed by corkscrew injuries in Scotland since 2009, most of them in the firths of Forth and Tay. Government scientists initially attributed the injuries to seals getting caught in ducted propellers widely used by offshore industries.
But in December researchers witnessed an adult male grey seal in the Firth of Forth attacking grey seal pups, leaving them with distinctive corkscrew injuries. Documents released by the Scottish Government under freedom of information law show that after two meetings in January, publication of the evidence was fast-tracked, leading to its release on 4 February.
In a confidential memo to the Environment Minister, Richard Lochhead, on 30 January, a senior official with Marine Scotland, Ian Walker, recommended immediate publication “in order to allow developers to adjust their proposals in light of its findings”.