Save The Bay has released its third annual Narragansett Bay Seal Monitoring Report. The document compiles decades of historical data with new information collected during last year’ seasonal monitoring efforts and the 2018 Bay-Wide Seal Count.
Save The Bay staff, partner organizations and volunteers have been collecting data on the harbor seals of Narragansett Bay since 1994, and the report illustrates valuable information about patterns in local seal migration and population.
“When we review the numbers from this year’s report, we see data that is indicative of a healthy seal population,” said Jonathan Stone, Save The Bay’s executive director. “These winter visitors are a sign of a healthy bay – a bay that offers food and refuge to these magnificent marine mammals.”
The Narragansett Bay Seal Monitoring Report is updated every year to include new data from both annual seasonal monitoring and Save The Bay’s annual Bay-Wide Seal Count. Though seasonal monitoring has historically begun in January, last year’s program extended the monitoring season at several key Rhode Island sites in an effort to capture a more accurate timeline of seal migration in Narragansett Bay. New observations were collected from September-May at Rocky Point in Warwick, Rumstick Point in Barrington, Brenton Point in Newport, Usher Cove and Church Cove in Bristol, and Rome Point in North Kingstown.
“By collecting information during the entirety of the seal season, we can answer questions about when seals arrive and depart more precisely,” said Save The Bay volunteer manager July Lewis, who organizes the Seal Monitoring Program and compiles the report.
While season-long monitoring focuses on harbor seal migration, the Bay-Wide Seal Count, which takes place in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Atlantic Ecology Division and Narragansett Bay Estuarine Research Reserve on a single day in March, focuses on overall harbor seal numbers.
“We pick a day at the peak of the seal season, and visit every haul-out site in the bay at low tide-even ones that are difficult to access and can't be regularly monitored,” Lewis said. “This survey is a valuable resource in estimating a minimum Narragansett Bay harbor seal population. By tallying a bay-wide count every year, we can be alert to any sudden or significant change in the population of our state marine mammal.”
Volunteers counted 423 seals at 22 sites during the 2018 bay-wide count on March 27, a total that is in keeping with the historical average of the count once factors that affect seal haul-out – including temperature and wind speed – are accounted for.
A few decades ago, the seal population was much lower, due to the bounty hunting that took place from the 1800s until the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.
“In the 1970s and 1980s, we would be lucky to see a handful of seals in the bay all winter,” Lewis said. “But seal populations have slowly recovered and have finally reached a point where their numbers are relatively stable.”
The 2018 Narragansett Bay Seal Monitoring Report can be downloaded in its entirety at savebay.org/publications.
Save The Bay offers narrated Seal Cruises that give community members the opportunity to observe these mammals in their natural habitat-from a safe distance of at least 50 yards, as required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Seal tours depart from Newport on weekends through April 28, as well as on weekdays during public school vacation weeks in February and April.
More information about Save The Bay Seal Tours is available at savebay.org/seals.