A NEW hi-tech system is helping North-East scientists monitor grey seals more effectively.

The computerised photo-ID system uses pattern recognition to match identifying marks on the animals.

Thousands of images have already been filed in a digital catalogue, giving scientists the ability to identify and track many animals without physically handling them.

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Experts from Durham and St Andrews universities and Conservation Research have been using the technique to follow animals at a breeding colony on North Rona, in the Outer Hebrides.

Female grey seals have unique coat markings which remain unchanged during adulthood.

The technique cannot be used on males, as their coats do not have the same degree of patterning as females.

The studies have confirmed the female seals’ survival rate at North Rona is lower than expected. Pup births at the island have fallen from more than 2,000 in the 1970s to 500 at present, while other colonies have seen pup numbers rise.

The work was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Esmee Foundation.