Seal Abundance in the Northeast Causes Concern for Scientists and Fishermen

New Wave Media

November 8, 2012

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Off the coast of Cape Cod Massachusetts and other local areas there has been a recent increase in seal populations. The local fisheries groups have raised concerns and scientists are rushing to document and understand the interactions between the seal populations and fisheries. These and other issues and challenges presented by seal populations have led to the creation of a new effort to improve our understanding of the ecological role of seals in the northeast United States. “This encompasses all issues: how they live, where they go, what they eat, their health and illnesses, and interactions with the world—including us—around them,” says Andrea Bogomolni, a Research Associate at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Bogomolni is on the steering committee of this new effort—called the Northwest Atlantic Seal Research Consortium. It includes researchers from organizations, universities, and the government, as well as commercial and recreational fishermen and anyone who shares an interest in seal issues. The consortium is being formed at a time when technologies and techniques are rapidly improving scientists’ ability to understand the biology, habitat use, and distribution of seal populations. These projects involve coordinated research efforts, sharing of data, collaboration, and public outreach. Scientists and fishermen will draw upon their respective skill sets and experience to develop and execute research projects to better understand interactions between seals and fisheries and to answer larger questions surrounding the role of seals in the western North Atlantic ecosystems. According to Bogomolni there are a number of challenges the committee faces including limited resources and the need to address the animals in their natural habitat. The consortium plans to meet every two years and are currently addressing the creation of a database and website, as well as a listserv for participants. To achieve success, Michael Moore, director of the WHOI Marine Mammal Center, sums it up like this: “Time, money, commitment, and openness to different stakeholder needs, aspirations, and perspectives are what we need to reach our goals.”