Popular Belgian seal could be back in Shoreham – and photographs are sought to confirm it's Riviere

​​The hunt is on to confirm a Belgian seal that won the hearts of people in Shoreham has returned to the River Adur this autumn.
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Riviere was first spotted in Adur in May 2020 and her journey to Shoreham was traced back to Belgium by zoologist Stephen Savage.

Since then he has been monitoring her movements. There were only a few sightings of the popular seal last year but photographs in October and December seemed to match her photo ID profile, confirming she was still living in the River Adur.

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Now, a year on and again with few sightings during 2023, Stephen is hoping for help to confirm Riviere is indeed happy and healthy, and living in the River Adur.

Riviere resting on the riverbank. Picture: S. SavageRiviere resting on the riverbank. Picture: S. Savage
Riviere resting on the riverbank. Picture: S. Savage

He said: "I named Riviere as it is Belgium for river, as this seal was originally rescued and rehabilitated in Belgium and she eventually found her way to Sussex.

"Seals have been spotted all year locally, including a large grey seal that has been spotted swimming near the shore or bottling, bobbing head above water, which is how seals rest in the sea.

"I have received several tantilizing photos that suggest this could be Riviere but I am still hoping to receive a photograph showing a major natural marking on the left side of her head."

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Seals often visit the Sussex rivers, on most occasions for just a day or two. These recent sightings in the River Adur suggests to Stephen that Riviere has returned.

Riviere, showing unique ID marking. Picture: S. SavageRiviere, showing unique ID marking. Picture: S. Savage
Riviere, showing unique ID marking. Picture: S. Savage

The seal has delighted locals with her inquisitive and curious nature ever since she was first spotted.

Stephen has been following the movements of Riviere since 2020, with the help of readers of the Herald newspaper. He is the Sussex county recorder for sea mammals and the Sussex Seal Project, and he has been studying sea mammals in the Shoreham area since 1998.

Stephen said: "I created a photo ID profile in 2020 which made it possible to follow the movements of Riviere. The last confirmed sighting was in 2022. This is not unusual, as juvenile seals wander for many miles, returning to their pupping beach only when mature.

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"Rivers are relatively secluded and a good place to hunt for food, as our rivers are tidal for many miles inland and home to marine fish such as mullet.

"Seals have to haul out on land to digest their food and replenish energy used when swimming. To conserve energy, seals will often swim up river at high tide and swim back down with the outgoing tide, letting the river flow do much of the work."

Stephen explained that occasionally a seal takes up residence in an area and may remain for a number of years before moving, such as Riviere.

Sightings sent in by the public as part of the citizen science project provide a valuable source of data, as you never know where a seal or a dolphin may turn up.

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Stephen is keen to hear from anyone who has spotted a seal or other sea mammals in Sussex. He would like to receive information including where the seal was spotted, the day and time, whether the seal was swimming or hauled out, and any other information.

Stephen pointed out: "Always watch seals on land from a safe distance so as not to disturb them. You can report your sea mammal sightings to the sighting email [email protected]."

Photographs are also useful as they can be used to determine the species, as required for the science database, and along with video clips, can also give a valuable context to the sighting such as location or behaviours.

Close up photographs can be used to create photo ID profiles identifying individual seals, to monitor the movements of individuals seals.

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