2016-03-17 / News

Bounty of seals found in bay


More than 600 seals were spotted during the annual tally last week, including many at Rome Point, just north of the Jamestown Bridge. 
Save The Bay More than 600 seals were spotted during the annual tally last week, including many at Rome Point, just north of the Jamestown Bridge. Save The Bay As the state legislature considers a proposal to name the harbor seal Rhode Island’s state marine mammal, it’s only fitting Save The Bay counted 603 seals during its annual baywide tally last week.

Harbor seals were observed “hauling out” on rocks or “bottling” in the water at 26 sites throughout Narragansett Bay. Boats monitored islands while volunteers monitored sites visible by land. Brenton Point, Citing Rock, Hope Island, Rome Point, Coddington Cove and Prudence Island were some of the most heavily populated sites in the region, with numbers ranging from 36 to 101 seals.

Perfect viewing conditions, including warm temperatures, low winds, calm waters and high visibility, contributed to the highest seal count in the history of the monitoring program, which began in 1994. The previous record was set in 2011 when 569 seals were observed.

According to boat captain Eric Pfirrmann, the high number does not necessarily indicate a directional trend in the seal population.

“Seal populations fluctuate from year to year just as environmental conditions fluctuate,” he said. “I feel the seal population has been relatively stable for some time now, and that the bay is probably at carrying capacity for harbor seals.”

Pfirrmann attributed the strong seal population to numerous factors, including a 1972 federal law that made it illegal to kill, take or harass marine mammals. A cleaner bay is also a factor.

“High numbers of observed seals in the water are a strong indicator of a hospitable environment and a healthy ecosystem that provides sufficient food,” Pfirrmann said.

According to experts, the seal population is usually highest in March and April before the animals migrate to northern waters to have their young.

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