Highlands & Islands

Harbour porpoises killed by infected seal bites

Grey seals Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Grey seals prey on porpoises

Harbour porpoises found washed up dead on North Sea shores were killed by infected grey seal bites, according to new research.

Scientists examined porpoises recovered from beaches in north-east and south-east Scotland as well as England, the Netherlands and Belgium.

The animals had "chronically inflamed" bite wounds on their fins and tails.

The researchers found the porpoises were infected with the bacteria Neisseria animaloris.

Seals, and also cats and dogs, can carry the bacteria on their teeth.

Grey seals prey on harbour porpoises, and the researchers said even porpoises that survive attacks can later fall victim to infected bites.

The scientists said these porpoises would have suffered a slow death.

Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the research involved scientists at the Inverness-based Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme, which is part of Scotland's Rural College.

Others involved in the study were experts from Utrecht University, the Animal and Plant Health Agency and UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme.

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