What's Eviscerating Britain's Seals?

| Thu Aug. 19, 2010 5:43 PM EDT

Scores of dead seals are washing up on British shores eviscerated and skinned with ghastly corkscrew injuries, as if passed through a giant pencil sharpener, reports the UK's Daily Mail. Police and scientists are investigating the disturbing phenomenon.

In Scotland, the problem is bad enough to arouse concern over the survival of the common seal, which is no longer so common. From the Daily Mail:

Callan Duck, senior research scientist at the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at St Andrews University, said: "We simply don’t know what is causing this. We are finding seals coming ashore dead with these highly unusual lacerations right around their body like a spiral. From their head down they can have one or two complete revolutions to their abdomen. It is a continuous cut with a very smooth edge."

The injuries don't match any known killers such as fishing nets or boat propellers. Researchers believe they're mechanically produced by a rotating single blade, perhaps by the animals being sucked into the propeller blade of an as yet unidentified vessel. The bodies of more than 50 common and grey seals have been found on the Norfolk coast since November. Thirteen have so far been the subject of necropsies, but most were too mutilated to provide answers. In the Firth of Tay this summer, seven were found dead out of a breeding population of only 150. 

Similar unsolved seal deaths have been reported off the Atlantic coast of Canada in the past ten years, reports the Telegraph.

The Sun reports that tidal power generators, or tide turbines, have been ruled out as culprits too. But no one else reports that. So I wonder.