Offshore wind farms have become the go-to place for hungry seals hunting for food. GPS tracking has demonstrated that harbor seals and grey seals are taking advantage of the wind farms and pipelines to forage for food. According to a study published in the journal Current Biology, man-made wind farms and pipelines become “artificial reef” gradually.

Seals

Seals move in a grid-like pattern between wind turbines

To conduct this study, researchers at the University of St Andrews tagged harbor seals and grey seals with GPS devices on the British and Dutch coasts of the North Sea. GPS tracking data showed that 11 harbor seals visited two active wind farms off the British and German coasts. At both sites, the pinnipeds moved in the area in a grid-like pattern.

They worked their way in straight lines between the individual wind turbines, while foraging for food. They also successfully tracked the path of sub-sea pipeline. Researchers found that two seals in the Netherlands followed a section of pipeline on several trips for days at a time. Four out of 96 seals tagged in the Netherlands visited Alpha Ventus, which is located off the coast of Germany. On the other hand, seven of the 22 seals in the south-east England visited the Sheringham Shoal wind farm.

More seals could use those wind farms as hunting grounds

One seal went to the Sheringham Shoal, the wind farm located 12 miles off the Norfolk coast, on each of 13 trips. And every time, it moved through the area in a grid-like manner. Such man-made structure in the sea form “artificial reefs” for fish and crustaceans. Deborah Russell, lead author of the study, said she was “shocked” to see the stunning grid-pattern of a seal around Sheringham Shoal.

She said the seals travel in straight lines between the wind turbines, checking them out for potential prey. Researchers said both wind farms were newly built. So, more seals may come to use them as hunting grounds over time. Anyway, researchers believe more research is needed to analyze the impact of wind farms in marine waters.