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harbor seals in chatham
Harbor seals, Chatham, Mass.
Photo credit: Christin Khan, NEFSC/NOAA.

Seal Tagging in Chatham: March 24-31, 2012

Posted 04/24/2012

The Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) recently conducted live captures of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina). Seals were captured off of Chatham, Massachusetts on Cape Cod using a gillnet deployed from small boats.  Once captured, each seal was measured and weighed, biological samples (e.g., blood, skin, hair) were collected for health assessments and genetic studies, and the seal was outfitted with both a flipper tag and a small VHF radio tag before being released back into the water.

The main purpose of the project was to attach radio tags in order to get an estimate of the number of seals not hauled-out (therefore not available to be observed/counted) during the aerial abundance surveys to be flown during peak pupping in late May along the coast of Maine.  This correction factor will be used with aerial survey counts to estimate the total harbor seal population size. Antennas mounted to the struts of survey airplanes can detect the radio signal from a tagged seal with a 5-10 mile range when the seal is on the surface.

A team of experienced marine mammal researchers from NEFSC's Protected Species Branch and the Fisheries Sampling Branch at the Woods Hole Laboratory were joined in Chatham by colleagues from NOAA's Northeast Regional Office in Gloucester, MA; the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation on Long Island, NY;  and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

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For more on how the Northeast Fisheries Science Center is working to better understand seal populations, visit our Protected Species Branch web site.

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