HARBOR AND GREY SEAL SURVEYS

Atlantic Marine Conservation Society’s “AMSEAS” staff has conducted aerial, boat, and land-based surveys for marine mammals and sea turtles in New York for decades. This project builds on the existing decades of surveys and increase the frequency of surveys for seals to a year-round, bi-monthly basis. In the last two years, it has been documented that seals are a year-round visitor to the waters around New York. The introduction of grey seals to the region in the early 2000s has increased the need to understand how these animals are operating in this ecosystem. Understanding how these animals move throughout the region and how they interact with natural and man-made structures is critical to understanding the impact seals have on the environment and the impacts we have on these animals.  

In November 2018, the AMSEAS team completed an aerial survey of haul out sites around Long Island, Connecticut and Rhode Island in support of the Northeast US Pinniped Unusual Mortality Event (UME) investigation. More than 900 harbor and grey seals were observed in Moriches Bay, Shinnecock Bay, Montauk, Fisher’s Island, Little Gull Island, Block Island, and Narragansett Bay. This survey provided a picture of harbor and grey seal migrations and the population status in light of more than 1,400 animals that were responded to in the region since July 2018. Continuing our work to understand the movements and health of these populations, AMSEAS chief scientist Rob DiGiovanni deployed two satellite tags on harbor seals with Marine Mammals of Maine and Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Clinic.

This data is critical to understanding the impacts wind energy exploration on the species’ behavior. Preliminary data for a pilot study conducted on grey seal pups by AMSEAS in January of 2019 showed that seals use more of the habitat than previously thought. AMSEAS is working on health assessment studies on grey seals in the northeast region in collaboration with researchers through the Northwest Atlantic Seal Research Consortium, including Tufts University, Marine Mammals of Maine, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, University of Connecticut, and Pacific Marine Mammal Center. These studies support the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program. Funding by the National Marine Mammal Sanctuary will enable DiGiovanni to deploy satellite tags on these animals to gain insight into how they use the marine habitat, in particular the Stellwagen Bank National Sanctuary. These tags will provide position, water temperature, haul out behavior, and dive data for the tagged animals.