Genetic techniques get seal of approval

April 25, 1997

Scientists are using new genetic techniques to identify the sex and species of a seal from its droppings in an attempt to find out which seals are eating commercially-important fish. Half the world population of grey seals, about 110,000, live in British waters and consume an estimated 76,000 tones of fish per year, bringing them into conflict with fishermen.

Feeding habits vary with species and sex, but droppings are indistinguishable, making targetted conservation or management action difficult. Now scientists at Cambridge and Aberdeen universities have successfully extracted, amplified and analysed DNA from tiny numbers of cells from the seal's gut wall excreted in its droppings.

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