Ice Seal Research
Movements and Habitat Use Studies

Most Recent Update

Most Recent Tracking Map
From 13 to 27 July 2020, we received locations for 1 bearded, 2 ringed and 3 spotted seals, all in the northeast Chukchi and western Beaufort seas. These seals were tagged during the summer and fall of 2019. As expected, the primary tags we epoxied to their backs have since fallen off during the annual molt this spring. The locations we are currently receiving are from the SPOT tags we attached to their flippers. Because SPOT tags are attached to their flippers we only receive locations when the seal has hauled out of the water, either on sea ice or land.

The adult bearded seal (BS19-01-M, red square) remained in heavy sea ice and moved off the continental shelf in the Beaufort Sea. The ringed seals, RS19-02-M (yellow arrow) and RS19-03-M (orange arrow), were in the western Beaufort Sea. One spotted seal, SS19-04-M (pink circle), was near Icy Cape in the Chukchi Sea while the two others, SS19-05-M (purple circle) and SS19-06-M (green circle), were in the western Beaufort Sea, generally in and near Dease Inlet. Sea ice data are courtesy of the U.S. National Ice Center, dated 27 July 2020 (http://www.natice.noaa.gov/products/daily_products.html).

Animation of Seal Locations and Sea Ice in 2016

Archives

Project Overview

There are four species of seals in Alaska that are referred to as "ice associated seals" or "ice seals" because they use sea ice for important life history events such as pupping, nursing, molting, and resting. Ringed (Pusa hispida), bearded (Erignathus barbatus), spotted (Phoca largha), and ribbon (Histriophoca fasciata) seals are all used for subsistence by coastal Alaska Natives for food, oil, materials, clothing, and handicrafts. These ice seals live in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas but little is known about the timing of each species' movements and even less is known about how these movements may differ by sex and age classes, whether individuals return to the same places seasonally, and the location and characteristics of important habitats they use. Reductions in sea ice have intensified interest in shipping and oil and gas activities, which amplifies the need to understand ice seal movements and habitat use to plan shipping lanes, oil and gas lease sales, and to develop effective mitigation measures for their protection. A combination of satellite transmitter technology and the skills of Native subsistence seal hunters to capture seals and instrument them with transmitters will greatly improve our knowledge of seal movements and behavior. The focus of this study is to work with interested seal hunters in multiple villages along the west and north coasts of Alaska to capture and instrument (tag) ringed, bearded, spotted, and possibly ribbon seals with satellite transmitters. Tracking seals tagged at multiple locations, potentially as far south as Bristol Bay and as far north as Kaktovik, will allow us to better understand the range and timing of movements, use of sea ice including haulout behavior, important habitats, degree of seasonal site fidelity, and behavior near ships, including seismic and other petroleum related activities. Funding for seal tagging has been provided by BOEM (SPLASH and SPOT tags, Wildlife Computers, Redmond, WA) and the Office of Naval Research (CTD tags, Sea Mammal Research Unit, University of St. Andrews, UK). Seal research is conducted under a NMFS Permit issued to ADF&G and an ADF&G Animal Care and Use Permit.

Tagging activities in 2019

During 2019 we deployed satellite tags on 13 ice seals during three cooperative tagging events near Utqiaġvik, Alaska, with the North Slope Borough, Department of Wildlife Management (NSB). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Marine Mammal Laboratory provided the 8 flipper-mounted SPOT tags that were deployed on seals.

June 2019: We tagged 5 adult male ringed seals swimming amongst sea ice offshore of the community of Utqiaġvik. Three seals were instrumented with CTD tags, the other two with SPLASH tags, and all were also instrumented with a flipper-mounted SPOT tag.

September 2019: We tagged an adult male bearded seal hauled out on a river bank in Dease Inlet. Very few adult bearded seals have been captured and tagged in Alaskan waters. This seal was instrumented with a CTD tag and a flipper-mounted SPOT tag.

In mid-September, we tagged 7 male spotted seals in Dease Inlet. Six of the 7 spotted seals were adults and one was a subadult. Four seals were instrumented with CTD tags, the other three with SPLASH tags, and all were also instrumented with a flipper-mounted SPOT tag.

Tagging activities in 2018

July 2018: We tagged 2 young spotted seals near the community of Scammon Bay. One seal was instrumented with a SPLASH tag, the other with a CTD tag, and both were also instrumented with a flipper-mounted SPOT tag. These seals were tagged by a local crew of seal hunters, River Simon, Al Smith, and Yukon Rivers, with assistance from Justin Crawford (ADF&G) and Ryan Adam (ADF&G).

Also in July, we tagged 1 young spotted seal with a CTD and flipper-mounted SPOT tags near Utqiaġvik during a cooperative tagging event with the North Slope Borough, Department of Wildlife Management (NSB).

September 2018: During a cooperative tagging event involving ADF&G Arctic Marine Mammal Program, NSB, and Vernon Long (resident of Nuiqsut), we tagged 2 spotted seals, one young seal with a SPLASH tag and one adult with a CTD tag near Nuiqsut. Both seals were also instrumented with a flipper-mounted SPOT tag. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Marine Mammal Laboratory provided the 2 flipper-mounted SPOT tags that were deployed on these spotted seals.

In late September, we tagged 1 young bearded seal with a CTD and flipper-mounted SPOT tag near the community of Koyuk. This bearded seal was tagged by a local seal hunter and reindeer herder Merlin Henry and Evett Henry, with assistance from Justin Crawford (ADF&G) and Justin Olnes (ADF&G).

Also in late September, we tagged 3 spotted seals with CTD and flipper-mounted SPOT tags near Utqiaġvik during a cooperative tagging event with the North Slope Borough, Department of Wildlife Management (NSB).

Tagging a young bearded seal
Evett Henry, Merlin Henry, and Justin Crawford tagging a young bearded seal with a CTD tag near Koyuk.

Tagging activities in 2017

June 2017: We tagged 2 adult male ringed seals and 1 young spotted seal in Kotzebue Sound, near the community of Buckland. One ringed seal received a SPLASH tag, the second ringed seal received a CTD tag, and all 3 seals received a flipper-mounted SPOT tag. We were unable to epoxy a SPLASH or CTD tag to this spotted seal because it was molting. These seals were tagged by a local crew of seal hunters, Raymond Lee Jr. and Raymond Lee III, and assisted by Mark Nelson (ADF&G) and Ryan Adam (ADF&G).

July 2017: We tagged 3 young spotted seals near the community of Scammon Bay. Two seals received a SPLASH tag, 1 received a CTD tag, and all 3 received a flipper-mounted SPOT tag. These seals were tagged by a local crew of seal hunters, Morgan and River Simon, and assisted by Mark Nelson (ADF&G) and Ryan Adam (ADF&G).

Also in July, we tagged 1 spotted seal with CTD and flipper-mounted SPOT tags near Utqiaġvik (Barrow) during a cooperative tagging event with the North Slope Borough, Department of Wildlife Management (NSB).

August 2017: During a cooperative tagging event involving ADF&G Arctic Marine Mammal Program, NSB, and Richard Tukle (resident of Nuiqsut), we tagged 3 spotted seals and 1 bearded seal, each with CTD and flipper-mounted SPOT tags near Nuiqsut. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, Marine Mammal Laboratory provided 3 flipper-mounted SPOT tags that were deployed on spotted seals and the NSB provided 1 flipper-mounted SPOT tag deployed on the bearded seal.

September 2017: We tagged 3 young bearded seals, each with CTD and flipper-mounted SPOT tags, near the community of Koyuk. These bearded seals were tagged by a local seal hunter and reindeer herder Merlin Henry and Jeremiah Henry, and assisted by Justin Crawford (ADF&G) and Ryan Adam (ADF&G).

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Jeremiah Henry tagging a young bearded seal near Koyuk.

October 2017: We tagged 1 young bearded seal with CTD and flipper-mounted SPOT tags near Nome. This bearded seal was tagged by a local seal and beluga whale hunter Tom Gray. Tom uses nets to capture beluga whales and seals for subsistence and has previously worked with us to deploy tags on beluga whales.

Tagging activities in 2016

June 2016: We tagged 1 young male ringed seal with a flipper-mounted SPOT tag near the community of St. Michael on 10 June. This seal was tagged by a local crew of seal hunters, Alexander Niksik and Palsson Fitka.

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Alexander Niksik holding the flippers of a young male ringed seal that was tagged near St. Michael, 10 June 2016. The satellite transmitter (SPOT tag) is attached to the seal's left flipper and a uniquely numbered ID tag is attached to the right flipper.

July 2016: We tagged 4 young bearded seals near the community of St. Michael. All four received a flipper-mounted SPOT tag, one also received a glue-on SPLASH tag, and one received a glue-on CTD tag. These seals were tagged by a local crew of seal hunters, Alexander Niksik and Palsson Fitka.

Also in July we tagged 2 ringed seals with CTD tags near Utqiaġvik (Barrow) during a cooperative tagging event with the North Slope Borough, Department of Wildlife Management (NSB).

August 2016: In cooperation with the NSB we tagged 7 spotted seals with CTD tags near Utqiaġvik. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Marine Mammal Laboratory provided three flipper-mounted SPOT tags that were also deployed on spotted seals. During the spotted seal captures we also captured and tagged a bearded seal with a flipper-mounted SPOT tag.

September 2016: We tagged 2 young bearded seals near the community of Koyuk. Both bearded seals received flipper-mounted SPOT tags and one received a SPLASH while the other received a CTD tag. These bearded seals were tagged by a local seal hunter and reindeer herder Merlin Henry and assisted by Mark Nelson (ADF&G) and Justin Crawford (ADF&G).

October 2016: We tagged 2 spotted seals with CTD tags near the community of Scammon Bay on 18 October. These seals were tagged by a local seal hunter Morgan Simon and assisted by Mark Nelson (ADF&G).

November 2016: We tagged 1 young bearded seal with a CTD and flipper-mounted SPOT tag near Nome. This bearded seal was tagged by a local seal and beluga whale hunter Tom Gray and assisted by Mark Nelson (ADF&G). Tom uses nets to capture beluga whales and seals for subsistence and has previously worked with us to deploy tags on beluga whales.

Tagging activities in 2015

May 2015: We tagged 1 young male ringed seal on 14 May. This seal was tagged near the community of Hooper Bay by Albert Simon 2nd. Albert 2nd was assisted by Mark Nelson (ADF&G).

August 2015: During August we tagged 8 bearded and 1 ringed seal in the Norton Sound region. We tagged 4 young bearded seals (2 male and 2 female) on 18–20 August about 15 miles up the Koyuk River from the community of Koyuk. These seals were tagged by a local seal hunter and reindeer herder Merlin Henry. We also tagged 4 young bearded seals (2 male and 2 female) and 1 young female ringed seal on 22 and 23 August in St. Michael Canal and Little St. Michael Canal, near the community of St. Michael. These seals were tagged by a local crew of seal hunters Alexander Niksik and Palsson Fitka. The hunter-taggers in both locations were assisted by Mark Nelson (ADF&G).

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Albert Simon 2nd preparing to tag a young ringed seal near Hooper Bay, 14 May 2015.
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Alexander Niksik tagging a young bearded seal captured in St. Michael Canal, 22 August 2015.

Tagging activities in 2014

June 2014: We tagged 4 adult ringed seals (2 male and 2 female) and 1 young male bearded seal on 18 and 19 June. The seals were tagged south of Kotzebue by the local crew consisting of John Goodwin, Pearl Goodwin, Boyuk Goodwin, Frank Garfield, Edward Ahyakak, and Denali Whiting with logistics assistance by Alex Whiting. The non-local crew included Kathy Frost and Mark Nelson.

September 2014: We tagged 3 young male bearded seals between 26 and 30 September about 15 miles up the Koyuk River from the community of Koyuk. The seals were tagged by a local seal hunter and reindeer herder Merlin Henry and Mark Nelson.

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John and Pearl Goodwin searching for seals to tag in Kotzebue Sound.
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A net was used to capture ringed and bearded seals near Kotzebue. Photo by Denali Whiting, 19 June 2014.
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A net was used to capture this ringed seal near Kotzebue. Left to right: Frank Garfield, Boyuk Goodwin, Edward Ahyakak, and Kathy Frost. Photo by Denali Whiting, 19 June 2014.
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Ringed seal tagged near Hooper Bay. Left to right: Mark Nelson and Florence (Nukusuk) Kargi. Photo by Albert Simon.
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Merlin Henry with a young bearded seal tagged in the Koyuk River, 30 September 2014.

Previous Ice Seal Movement and Habitat Use Studies

We have worked with seal hunters from the Native Village of Kotzebue to capture and tag ringed seals to learn more about movements and habitat use. We are expanding this project to other villages.