Map of seal sampling locations in Alaska

Ice Seal Research
Biological Monitoring

We are working with 7 villages to collect samples from the subsistence ice seal harvest. We collect tissues and measurements from harvested ringed, bearded, spotted, and ribbon seals to evaluate indices of population status and health. We analyze teeth for age; liver, kidney, and blubber for contaminants; stomach contents for diet; body measurements for growth and condition; skin for genetics; and reproductive tracts for productivity. We share tissues with researchers locally, nationally, and internationally for many studies. This project has been funded by Congressional appropriations administered by NOAA/NMFS, the National Science Foundation, and by the North Pacific Research Board.

Man measuring the circumference of a seal
Villagers cleaning an ice seal

Reports: Biology of Ice Seals

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) has been monitoring the health and status of ice-associated seals (ringed, bearded, spotted and ribbon seals) in Alaska since 1960 by collecting information and samples from the Alaska Native subsistence harvest. This monitoring program is especially important because agencies have been unable to overcome the logistical and sampling constraints necessary to estimate seal abundance in remote, ice covered waters. As such, reliable estimates of abundance or population trends for ice seals are lacking. Retrospective data analyses from this monitoring program allow us to examine how parameters that affect population size and status may vary in time and how current conditions compare with past conditions. Parameters we monitor that are indicative of population health or status include growth rate, body condition, diet, age distribution, sex ratio, age of maturation, and pregnancy rate. Since 2000, ADF&G has also conducted surveys for local knowledge and hunter preferences and analyzed tissue samples for contaminants and disease. All of these collections rely on the cooperation of coastal subsistence communities. Villages that have participated in the sampling program span the region from Hooper Bay in the Bering Sea to Kaktovik in the Beaufort Sea, including islands in the Bering Sea.