Satellite tags are frequently used to study pinnipeds in their natural environment, relocate individuals for serial sampling, and track healthy animals released after rehabilitation. A preliminary evaluation of tracklines from these studies indicate that seals seasonally inhabiting and transiting through areas could be impacted by military activities including vessel traffic of all sizes, dredging, pile driving, sonar, and other activities.
Phase 1 Objectives:
1) To assess the feasibility of conducting aerial surveys between New York and Rhode Island; 2) To coordinate aerial surveys with ground, boat, and remote camera surveys in the survey area; and, 3) To assess the feasibility to capture and tag harbor and gray seals in southern New England and New York.
There are three phases to approach this research. The purpose of Phase I is to conduct a pilot study to inform the development of a multi-year program to measure baseline behavior and determine how human sounds, including active sonar signals, affect pinnipeds.
The aim of the 2021-2022 field season’s research, Phase II of the Pinniped BRS, was to continue to obtain data to measure baseline behavior to understand the physical or biotic factors that influence the movement and foraging tactics of harbor and gray seals; the amount of time seals spend in specific areas, paying particular attention to Navy OPAREAS; and, the anthropogenic risks (e.g., noise-producing military activities) seals potentially encounter in nearshore and offshore areas. The tasks for Phase II of this research project included: 1) Continue aerial surveys to document harbor and gray seal haul outs in the Narragansett Bay OPAREA; 2) Coordinate aerial surveys with ground and remote camera surveys; 3) Deploy satellite tags on harbor and gray seals during the late fall through early spring; and, 4) Assess satellite tag data collected from tags deployed on pinnipeds.
In Phase III, the CEE would be executed and compared to baseline data collected in Phases I and II.
All work for this project is authorized under NMFS research permit # 21719.
Phase I of this project was completed in 2020-2021 and included aerial surveys off Rhode Island and New York, seal captures in New York, camera surveys in Rhode Island, and in-person observations in both New York and Rhode Island. In winter/spring of 2021, seven harbor seals and one gray seal were tagged off Long Island, New York, as part of a research effort to investigate pinniped behavioral responses.
Phase II was completed in 2022. Two aerial surveys were conducted, and three remote cameras were deployed. Additionally, three harbor seals were tagged with SPLASH tags with FASTLOC technology in Shinnecock Bay, New York.
Location: Northeast U.S. (New York and Rhode Island)
Funding: FY22- $77k FY23- $16k
Atlantic Marine Conservation Society
Naval Undersea Warfare Center