Seal Ecology and Assessment Research in the Northwest Atlantic
We study the ecology of seals in the Northwest Atlantic to support conservation management and promote public stewardship of a healthy and diverse marine environment.
There are two main species of seals that breed and forage in the U.S. Northwest Atlantic: harbor seals and gray seals. We research these seal populations to learn more about how many there are, where they live, and what they eat. This helps us understand their role in the ecosystem, and how they might be affected by factors like changing climate conditions.
Our seal research program focuses on harbor seal and gray seal ecology, principally in New England and Mid-Atlantic waters from Maine to Virginia. We monitor the abundance of both populations primarily using aerial photographic surveys along important haul-out sites such as beaches, sand bars, jetties, ledges, and rock piles that seals use to rest and give birth.
We conduct harbor seal abundance surveys along the coast of Maine in late May to early June to coincide with the peak pupping period. These surveys provide an index of the number of pups born and of the total population. We conduct gray seal abundance surveys during the pupping season in January at colonies in Massachusetts and Maine, with the main goal of monitoring the annual number of pups born. We also conduct seasonal surveys at other times of year along coastal waters to monitor both harbor seal and gray seal abundance and habitat use. We use both manned and unmanned aircraft to monitor the seal populations.