More than 500 seals born on historic German island in three months

The birthplace of Germany's national anthem and a practice bombing range for British airmen after World War II, Helgoland island in the North Sea turns cuddly at the turn of the year as grey seals arrive to give birth.

More than 500 seals born on historic German island in three months
A baby seal in Helgoland in December. Photo: DPA

The Jordsand society, dedicated to preserving North Sea coastal life, has counted more than 520 births since November.

Dozens of tourists come each day to see the white-furred seal pups hop around the beach during the whelping season that lasts into January.

“They're so close and so lively. I often watch them on TV, but it's much more exciting to come here,” said Karin, who had made a long trip to the island, also spelled Heligoland in English, from Essen in western Germany.

READ ALSO: Record numbers of baby seals born on North German islands

But two local rangers and Jordsand volunteers must keep the excited fans at a distance of at least 30 metres.

Adult seals can grow as large as 300 kilogrammes and won't hesitate to bite if they feel threatened.

“Sometimes, the tourists forget the restrictions and get too close. If the seals get too used to people, that has negative consequences in summer,” said ranger Ute Pausch.

A mother and baby seal at Helgoland in December. Photo: DPA

“They'll want to play in the water and they can injure swimmers.”

Wooden boardwalks have been set up to corral the tourists during whelping season.

The challenge has become all the greater as seal numbers have grown in response to rising water temperatures.

Researchers say climate change is behind waters growing 1.6 degrees Celsius warmer in the past 45 years.

Now, “the seals are more and more numerous, I think it's because there's more food around,” said Elmar Ballstaedt, who works for the Jordsand society.

But potential negative effects of global warming could one day outweigh the bonanza for the sea-dwelling mammals, he warned.

“We're at sea level here. If the water rises, we'll certainly have new challenges to overcome,” Ballstaedt said.

In the nearer term, the seal year is just getting started on Helgoland.

After three weeks nursing with their mothers, the pups are left to fend for themselves in the North Sea.

But they return to the island in the spring to moult — and to take another turn in front of crowds of tourists and photographers.

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Norway fails to agree fishing quota deal with United Kingdom

Norway and Britain have ended their negotiations for a bilateral deal on fishing quotas without reaching an agreement, the Norwegian government announced Friday.

Norway fails to agree fishing quota deal with United Kingdom
Boats moored in Bergens harbour. Photo by Lachlan Gowen on Unsplash

Both sides had mutually agreed that it was “time to put an end to the negotiations,” the government said in a statement.

“Brexit has undoubtedly created a number of challenges for the Norwegian fishing industry. It has proved extremely difficult to reach an agreement with the United Kingdom on zone access and quota exchange for 2021. When it comes to mutual access to fish in each other’s waters on common stocks, the distance was too great for us to reach an agreement,” Norway’s fisheries minister Odd Emil Ingerbrigsten said.

“Norway has had a firm stance throughout the negotiations in consultation with the fishing industry,” the fishing minister added.

This means that Norwegian fishermen will not be able to fish in British waters and their British counterparts will not be able to fish in Norwegian waters this year.

In March, the EU, Britain and Norway reached a three-way agreement, the first since Brexit, for the overall level of allowable catches in the North Sea.

READ ALSO: Why Norwegian fisherman are against more offshore wind farms

But the three parties still had to reach bilateral agreements on quota exchange and access to each other’s fishing grounds.

While Oslo and Brussels reached such an agreement, the EU and Norway still had to find common ground with Britain.

As a compromise was not reached with London by the deadline set at the end of March, the EU adopted temporary quotas until July 31 for waters shared with Britain.

Tensions have resurfaced in recent days, with European fishermen complaining about London’s tardiness in issuing fishing permits for the zone off the British coast.