Seal Research at NEFSC

seal on sandbar at Chatham harbor

The PSB seal research program is focused on harbor seal and gray seal ecology, principally in New England (Maine to New York) waters.  Population monitoring of both populations is accomplished by aerial photographic surveys along important haul-out sites (i.e., land habitats such as beaches, sand bars, jetties, ledges and rock piles that seals use to rest and give birth).  Harbor seal abundance surveys are conducted along the coast of Maine in late May to early June to coincide with the peak pupping period.  This provides an index of the number of pups born and the total population.  For gray seals the goal is to monitor the annual number of pups born. Multiple aerial surveys are conducted at the three major pupping colonies (i.e., Muskeget Island in Nantucket Sound, and Seal and Green Islands off mid coast Maine) from mid December to early February. Seasonal surveys (October to April) are also conducted along Massachusetts coastal waters (Plymouth to Nomans Island) to monitor both harbor seal and gray seal abundance and habitat use. 


Harbor seal and gray seal diets have been examined by 1) analysis of seal scat (e.g., fecal material) collected at several haul-out sites on Cape Cod and in Nantucket Sound, and 2) examination of seal stomachs collected from animals accidentally killed in commercial fishing operations. 


Live capture, biological sampling and tagging of harbor seals (adults and pups) and gray seal pups have been conducted for abundance estimation, seasonal movements, habitat use, and health assessment purposes.


PSB staff conduct analyses of annual mortality associated with incidental capture in commercial fishing gear, and evaluate the potential impact of other human activities (e.g., wind farms) on seal populations.  Scientific staff participate in seal field studies conducted by regional universities, non-profit research organizations, and Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and are members of  international scientific groups that focus on North Atlantic seals.


scientist catches a gray seal puptagged seal

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(File Modified Jun. 19 2013)