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Alaska Department of Fish and Game


Ice Seal Research
Movements and Habitat Use Studies

Most Recent Update

Most Recent Tracking Map
Over the last 5 weeks we have received locations from 5 ringed (solid lines) and 3 bearded (dashed lines) seals. Most of these seals have moved north with the seasonally retreating sea ice. Three seals remain in Kotzebue Sound while all seals that were in Norton Sound have moved north. The remaining five seals are near the ice edge. Sea ice data are courtesy of the NASA Rapid Response Network, dated 23 June (https://earthdata.nasa.gov/).

Animation of Seal Locations and Sea Ice in 2014

Ice Seal Tracking Maps Archive

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 some 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. Ice seals are found in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas but little is known about the timing and magnitude of their movements by species and even less is known about movements by sex and age classes and whether individuals return to the same places seasonally and what important habitats are. Reductions in sea ice have increased interest in shipping and oil and gas activities, which increases the need to understand ice seal movements and habitat use in order to plan shipping lanes, oil and gas lease sales, and to develop effective mitigation measures for their protection. A combination of satellite tag technology and the skills of Native subsistence seal hunters to capture seals and deploy transmitters will greatly increase our knowledge of seal movements and behavior in a relatively short period of time. The focus of this study is to work with interested seal hunters at different villages along the west and north coasts of Alaska to capture and deploy satellite transmitters on ringed, bearded, spotted, and possibly ribbon seals. 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. Seal research is conducted under NMFS permit #15324 and ADF&G Animal Care and Use Permit #2014-03.

Tagging activities

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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Figure 1. John and Pearl Goodwin searching for seals to tag in Kotzebue Sound.
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Figure 2. A net was used to capture ringed and bearded seals near Kotzebue. Photo by Denali Whiting, 19 June 2014.
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Figure 3. 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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Figure 4. Ringed seal tagged near Hooper Bay. Left to right: Mark Nelson and Florence (Nukusuk) Kargi. Photo by Albert Simon.
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Figure 5. 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.