Ice Seal Research Projects

Four species of Alaskan seals that are associated with sea ice during some part of each year are often called “ice seals.” These are ringed, bearded, spotted, and ribbon seals and they are important species to coastal communities for food and skins and they are important to the Arctic marine ecosystem. We work with the Ice Seal Committee, which is an Alaska Native Co-management organization that has a co-management agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service (the federal agency responsible for seals). Our studies focus on working with subsistence hunters and their communities to collect samples from harvested seals for analysis to monitor the status and health of each species. We coordinate surveys in some communities to document harvest, and we work with hunters to capture seals for tagging in order to learn about seal movements and habitat use.

  • Ice Seal Biological Monitoring
    We can monitor the status and health of seal populations from measurements and tissues collected from the annual subsistence harvest. This research is especially valuable because we do not have effective or affordable ways to determine the abundance or trend in the abundance of any of the four populations.
  • Ice Seal Harvest Monitoring
    There are more than 60 communities in Alaska that harvest ice seals for food and skins, but harvest levels have only been documented in a few of these communities. Documenting harvest can show how many seals are needed for each community and help us determine how harvest has changed over the years and how it might change in the future. Monitoring harvests may also provide information about changes in species' availability.
  • Ice Seal Movements and Habitat Use Studies
    We work with the Ice Seal Committee and interested seal hunters from villages along the west and north coasts of Alaska to capture and deploy satellite transmitters on ice seals to document their movements and habitat use. Such information is important to understand impacts and develop mitigation measures for activities such as oil and gas and shipping lanes.
  • Winter Ringed Seal Density within Beaufort Sea Oil and Gas Project Areas
    We used trained wildlife-detection dogs to survey for ringed seals (Pusa hispida) in an area of Prudhoe Bay in 2022 and 2023. Ringed seals spend most of their time under landfast sea ice and in snow lairs and are generally not visible from the ice surface, thus determining how many seals may be affected by oil and gas activities is difficult, but necessary, for attaining permits to conduct these activities.
  • Traditional Knowledge Reports
    We conducted Traditional Ecological Knowledge interviews, documenting local knowledge of marine mammals near coastal villages.