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gray and harbor seals on the beach in Wellfleet,Mass. Gray seals (Halichoerus grypus) and harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) hauled out on the beach at Jeremy Point in Wellfleet, Mass. in December 2007. Gray seals are sometimes called horsehead seals because of their head shape, while smaller harbor seals have a more rounded head and blunt snout. Photo credit: Meghann Murray, NOAA Fisheries
Coast Guard vessel stands by as rescures in small boat attempt to free an entanagled right whale. NOAA Fisheries staff and colleagues attempt to free an entangled North Atlantic right whale in 2004. The whale, a male born in 2003, was free of the gear when sighted a year later. Named "Kingfisher" for the Coast Guard vessel that helped in the effort, the whale was last sighted in 2015. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard.

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April 17, 2017
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

Status and Trends for Gray Seals, Right Whales in Northeast Focus of Marine Mammal Commission Meeting

Human Interactions with the increasing gray seal population in the Northeast, concern for the future of the endangered North Atlantic right whale population, updates on highly endangered vaquitas (a small porpoise in the Gulf of California), and Arctic activities drew a large crowd to the Marine Mammal Commission’s 2017 annual meeting April 5-7 in North Falmouth, MA.

Kimberly Murray and Peter Corkeron of the NEFSC’s Protected Species Branch presented updates on the status of gray seals and right whales, respectively, during a day of presentations devoted to each species. Gray seal researchers are using a variety of technologies to try to get a general sense of the size of the population, the human impacts, and the interactions with other marine life. Several fishermen spoke about the negative impacts gray seals have had on their operations, while other speakers addressed tourism and the blue economy, and the need to co-exist with seals. A recent survey of public perceptions about seals and human interactions was also presented, and showed strong support for the presence of seals in the region and an awareness of the changing coastal marine environment.

The outlook for North Atlantic right whales was also discussed and findings presented about the status and trends of the population, the impact of entanglements in fishing gear, efforts by NOAA Fisheries to implement an Atlantic large whale take reduction plan, and plans for right whale research and management in Canada. New developments in the use of weak rope and rope sleeves, pop-up buoys and other mitigation measures to reduce entanglement impacts on the right whale population were also presented.

The Marine Mammal Commission is an independent government agency charged by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) to further the conservation of marine mammals and their environment. The Commission provides comprehensive oversight of all science, policy, and management actions affecting marine mammals.

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