The fifth annual count of the seals living in the River Thames has been launched by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Teams of marine biologists are scouring the shorelines and sandbanks of the river, using boat and land assessments as well as aerial surveys of the Kent and Essex coastlines after the launch of the count on Monday, July 31.

The teams will also be looking at how disease, coastal development and animal behaviours are affecting the population count.

Canary Wharf was named the top location on the Thames for spotting marine mammals between 2004 and 2015 by ZSL, no doubt including the presence of local marine celebrity Sammy the Seal.

This seal popped up in Blackwall Basin to enjoy the sunshine last summer

According to ZSL’s estuaries and wetlands conservation manager Anna Cucknell, the 2016 survey gave population estimates of 964 harbour seals and 1,552 grey seals across the estuary.

She said: “These fantastic animals are a real wildlife highlight of the Thames but they also face serious conservation threats - from health risks like phocine distemper virus, which devastated UK seal populations in 2002, the impacts of coastal developments including construction and dredging projects in the outer estuary, and increasing evidence of inter-species competition for food and territory as seal numbers recover.”

The data collected from the survey will contribute to a new marine mammal action plan, which will allow members of the public to access advice online about how to identify if a marine mammal is healthy or in need of help, and who to contact if they have concerns.

In 2018, ZSL is due to conduct its first ever harbour seal breeding survey of the Thames. It is hoped the survey will make population estimates more accurate and shed more light on the importance of protecting pupping habitats.

To report a marine mammal sighting, visit the ZSL website .

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