Smart Seals Figure Out Bonus of Wind Farms

They're essentially 'grocery stores' in a changing ocean ecology

By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 27, 2014 1:04 PM CDT

(Newser) – Massive offshore wind farms like Sheringham Shoal in England appear to be doing more than converting wind energy. The turbines also serve as artificial reefs, which become rich hunting grounds for seals in the area, according to a report in PhysOrg. Using GPS devices affixed to the backs of 200 gray and harbor seals near offshore wind farms in Britain and Germany, scientists say that while they tracked only a small number venturing into the farms, those that did returned again and again, foraging for fish around the turbines.

"I was shocked when I first saw the stunning grid pattern," says one researcher. "You could see that the individual appeared to travel in straight lines between turbines, as if he was checking them out for potential prey and then stopping to forage at certain ones." The LA Times likens the wind farms to "grocery stores" for the seals, and researchers expect the number of those who figure out the trick to grow. But scientists aren't sure whether this is actually good thing in the long run for the seals, because wind farms have unique dangers such as maintenance vehicles and noise pollution. With more of these farms popping up to meet energy demands, scientists say it's more important than ever to understand exactly how they affect the ocean's ecology. (Check out the role giant wind farms may play in the development of hurricanes.)

Scientists studied seals near the Sheringham Shoal wind farm in southeast England.
Scientists studied seals near the Sheringham Shoal wind farm in southeast England.   (Mike Page)
A vessel sails towards a wind farm off the coast of Whitstable on the north Kent coast in southeastern England in this file photo taken Tuesday July 11, 2006.
A vessel sails towards a wind farm off the coast of Whitstable on the north Kent coast in southeastern England in this file photo taken Tuesday July 11, 2006.   (AP Photo/David Bebber, Pool)
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