On Tuesday, March 15, 17 volunteer citizen scientists took to water and shore to continue a 13-year Save The Bay tradition: counting seals in the nonprofit organization’s annual Bay-Wide Seal …
On Tuesday, March 15, 17 volunteer citizen scientists took to water and shore to continue a 13-year Save The Bay tradition: counting seals in the nonprofit organization’s annual Bay-Wide Seal Count, an effort to establish a minimum estimate of the number of seals in Narragansett Bay. With support from the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and Environmental Protection Agency staff, volunteers counted 464 seals at 25 sites, with Citing Rock in Newport, Rome Point in North Kingstown, and Halfway Rock in Newport County standing out as the most populated sites in the region, touting visible seal counts ranging from 53 to 79. On the same day, a partnering effort on Block Island, organized by Kim Gaffett of The Nature Conservancy, resulted in the spotting of 106 more seals along the island’s shores and engaged 25 additional volunteers.
“This initiative is a wonderful example of how volunteers can have a true impact on our work,” noted Save The Bay Volunteer and Internship Manager July Lewis. “The harbor seal—the most commonly-found seal in Narragansett Bay—plays an important role in the Bay’s ecology as a top predator species. We want to better understand this animal and track changes in its population, but we couldn’t possibly monitor all the sites we do without support from our citizen scientists!”
“Partnering with Save The Bay for the Bay-Wide Seal Count is one of many ways NBNERR collects information about the health of Narragansett Bay. Because the count is done every year, it lets us see whether things are changing over time,” explained Caitlin Chaffee, Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve manager. “This information is important to scientists who may want to investigate changes further. It can also inform the actions of resource managers and decision-makers who are responsible for protecting the health of the Bay.”
The Bay-Wide Seal Count is part of Save The Bay’s citizen scientist monitoring program, which runs annually from September through May 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. Grey seals—spotted rarely in the Bay, but more frequently on Block Island—can be found in our coastal waters year-round.
“When planning the count, we look to schedule it on a day with ideal weather at the height of the seal season so we can count as many seals as possible,” explained Lewis. “This year matched that description wonderfully. With low winds and clear weather, the conditions were perfect.”
“Given that the conditions were so ideal, the counts were a little lower than we would expect,” added Save The Bay Lead Captain Eric Pfirrmann. Similar conditions in 2016, for example, yielded a total count of 603 seals. “This is a perfect example of why it’s important to track this data year after year. Otherwise, we might not have noticed the change. We’ll be watching these numbers closely in the coming years.”
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