Wind farms operating in the ocean could be acting as beneficial artificial reefs for seals, say researchers.
"This is the first time marine mammals have shown use of these artificial structures for foraging," said Deborah Russell, a marine ecologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. The study she led was published Monday in the journal Current Biology, CBS News reported
Russell and her team attached GPS trackers to the fur of roughly 120 gray and harbor seals near offshore wind farms in Britain and Germany, including the 88-turbine Sheringham Shoal and at the 12-turbine Alpha Ventus project.
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Not many of the seals ventured into the wind farm areas — 11 total — but those that did returned frequently, foraging around the turbine poles.
"A key unanswered question is whether, for the most part, these structures increase or simply concentrate seal prey species," she said, according to Yahoo News
. "If such structures increase the overall abundance of prey in the environment, they may provide sustainable new foraging opportunities for predators. In this case, such structures could be designed to maximize any potential ecological benefits."
"On the other hand, in contrast, if prey, previously sparsely distributed, simply congregate at such structures, this makes them vulnerable to be hoovered up by marine predators, such as the seals, which may have negative consequences for the populations of prey species."
There are over 100,000 gray and harbor seals in the North Sea, and Russell said that while this clearly far outnumbers the amount of wind turbines, it's important to strike a cautious balance between the two. Some seals can be killed by construction of the wind farms, but more dangerously their populations could be more dramatically affected by changes to the ecosystems they live in.
that across Europe, offshore wind farms power approximately 7 million households.
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