Twenty-five volunteer citizen scientists took to water and shore to observe 357 harbor seals at sites around Narragansett Bay in Save The Bay's Bay-Wide Seal Count-an annual effort to establish a minimum estimate of the number of seals in the Bay on
Twenty-five volunteer citizen scientists took to water and shore to observe 357 harbor seals at sites around Narragansett Bay in Save The Bay’s Bay-Wide Seal Count—an annual effort to establish a minimum estimate of the number of seals in the Bay on March 23. With support from the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and Environmental Protection Agency staff, volunteers monitored 23 sites, with Rome Point in North Kingstown, Citing Rock in Newport and Halfway Rock in Portsmouth standing out as the most populated sites in the region, touting visible seal counts ranging from 41-69. On the same day, a partnering effort on Block Island, organized by Kimberly Gaffett of The Nature Conservancy, resulted in the spotting of 15 more seals along the island’s shores and engaged 23 additional volunteers.
“We had to cancel last year’s count, so it was great to see our citizen scientists reuniting last week,” noted Save The Bay Volunteer & Internship Manager July Lewis. “This initiative is a wonderful example of how volunteers can have a true impact on our work. The harbor seal is a top predator species and is important to Narragansett Bay’s ecology, so we want to understand this animal and track changes in its population. We couldn’t possibly monitor all the sites we do without support from these volunteers!”
The Bay-Wide Seal Count is part of Save The Bay’s citizen scientist monitoring program, which runs from September through May each year, when harbor seals typically visit local waters. The observed seal population is usually highest in March and April before the seals migrate to northern waters to have their young. While this year’s Bay-Wide Seal Count totals are lower than in previous years—the most recent being 572 seals counted in 2019—the numbers are unlikely to reflect a decrease in the seal population of the Bay. Instead, weather conditions—including fog that lowered visibility and rough waters that discouraged seals from hauling-out on rocks—affected the number of seals observed.
“We try to pick a day with ideal weather at the height of the seal season so we can count as many seals as possible,” explained Lewis. “We thought we were going to have terrific conditions, but the fog hung on much longer than predicted in the morning, and, although the winds were calm, the seas near the mouth of the Bay and around Block Island were very rough. Seals don’t like to haul out with waves splashing over their rocks!
“Our regular, seasonal monitoring still shows a healthy seal population. By doing both an annual one-day count and season-long monitoring at specific sites, we can get a good sense of what’s happening with the seal population. So far, in 2021, the population of seals appears stable.”