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crowd gathered to watch release Crowd gathers for the release at Scusset Beach. The seal was transported to the beach in the large crate at center. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Kimberly Murray, NEFSC
 tagged seal on the beach Miley Sealrus on the beach before entering the water. The satellite tag is visible on her back, the acoustic tag can be seen on her flipper. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Kimberly Murray, NEFSC
tagged sea about to enter the ocean Getting ready to enter Cape Cod Bay after three months in rehabilitation. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Kimberly Murray, NEFSC

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May 31, 2017
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

Scientists Track Young Gray Seal Released after Rehab in Pilot Project

Satellite and Acoustic tags could provide data for several years

A stranded young gray seal pup, rescued by the New England Aquarium on March 28 from a roadway in Scituate, Mass. and rehabilitated at the National Marine Life Center in Bourne since then, was released into the ocean May 23 at Scusset Beach, just north of the east end of the Cape Cod Canal.

So far the female seal, named Miley Sealrus by the caregivers at the National Marine Life Center, has travelled east and north by Wellfleet inside Cape Cod Bay, but is expected to head offshore into Southern New England waters and into the Gulf of Maine on the coming weeks. Before release, a satellite tag and an acoustic tag were attached to the seal to enable researchers to track her movements and behaviors. The traditional flipper tag, with an identification number and contact information if the seal strands or is captured, was also attached.*

“This is the first time NEFSC researchers have put an acoustic tag on a gray seal,” said Kimberly Murray, coordinator of seal research at the Center’s Woods Hole Laboratory. Murray and colleagues routinely attach flipper tags for identification, and occasionally attach satellite tags with epoxy to the backs of gray seals. The satellite tags fall off when the seal molts, meaning they usually last less than a year.

“We’re excited at the potential this Vemco acoustic tag gives us,” Murray said. “Acoustic tags are far less costly than satellite tags, are very small, and can stay on for a much longer time. We applied it with epoxy to a second flipper tag and expect it to last two years. Hopefully we can collect information on her movements during that time.”

The acoustic tag sends a signal which can be picked up by acoustic receivers deployed in the region by a number of organizations, including the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MA DMF), to track white sharks and striped bass, and the NEFSC to track cod, salmon, and other fish species. The tag also transmits temperature data, so an anomalous reading could potentially indicate a predation event by a white shark, in combination with other information.

Miley Sealrus is being tracked by satellite now. The data from the acoustic tag will be available at the end of the year, when many of the acoustic receivers are recovered from the ocean and the data downloaded. The MA DMF receivers around Cape Cod are typically in the water from May to December. Researchers will use both sets of data to develop a complete picture of the seal’s movements.

The satellite tag, supplied by the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, was applied at the National Marine Life Center by the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society on Long Island. NEFSC is using the acoustic data in cooperation with Greg Skomal of MA DMF, who is interested in understanding seal movements in relation to white shark distribution and behavior.

“We’re happy to work with the rehabilitation community to do seal research, “Murray said. “This pilot project brings the two groups together to understand more about seal movements and migration.” NEFSC has worked closely with the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society and other regional marine mammal research organizations on a number of projects, including studies during pupping season on Muskeget and Monomoy Islands.

In 2013, NEFSC researchers and colleagues conducted the first tagging and sampling of adult gray seals on Cape Cod, attaching one satellite tag and several GPS tags. The tags did not last long and fell off when the animals molted.

 “If this pilot study goes well, we hope to put out more of these acoustic tags next year and in the future during our annual tagging work, and that means we could soon have many animals tagged and providing much needed data.”

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* A green NEFSC tag, #1356, was attached to the left flipper, and a white NMLC tag, #55, was attached to the right flipper. If found please call the numbers on either of these tags, or if sighted please report the number to the Marine Animal Identification Network.

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The Northeast Fisheries Science Center conducts ecosystem-based science supporting stewardship of living marine resources under changing climatic conditions. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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