Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Harp Seal carcass off Center Hill Reserve, Plymouth

Well, it has been a busy few weeks for the Anderson's as they continue to find seal carcasses on their beach. This time, the carcass was a juvenile male harp seal that was close to 4 1/2 feet long. NECWA's resident seal scientist, Belinda, was not able to join the response team, but did confirm the species ID and sex of this animal. This was a male seal. With the help of the Anderson's, Nick and Krill headed down the beach to locate and examine this animal. Level A measurements were collected with include measurements and photographs of body parts.

Nick took the lead on this examination with the help of the Anderson's. This carcass appeared to be a few weeks old, but was fully intact. The only scavenger damage noticable was on the left side of the head.

As Nick measured the length of the carcass and its girth, Krill took photos of these parts and the process in general. In this digital age, photographs are a key component to this type of work. The information they provide not only complements the measurements that are collected, but also expands the information by provided a visual record. And photographs can act as a back-up in case measurements or recorded observations were not collected.

Everyone would rather observe and photograph live seals that live and feed in our New England waters. In fact, during this examination, there were quite a few live harbor seals hauled out on the rocks along the shores of the beach. (The photos below are from Tim Crowninsheild taken of harbor seals off the Cape this year.) But these types of on-site examinations are important as the information they provide help scientists at the New England Aquarium learn more about the life history and ecology of these incredible marine mammals.

If you do see a carcass of any type of marine mammal (seal, dolphin, porpoise, etc.) on the beach, call the hotline at the New England Aquarium. They will call their volunteer responders like Krill and Nick and ask them to check out the sighting and report back with data and photographs. If the animal is alive and on the beach, time is critical in terms of when you make the call.

Often, seals will haul out on our beaches to rest for a few hours. Healthy seals should be left alone and observed from a distance. At other times, the seal or other marine mammal is in distress and is in need of medical attention. That is where the expertise of biologists and scientists at the New England Aquarium come into play. So the timing of the call and how fast a responder can get to the animal are often critical.

Adults 18 and older can volunteer with the rescue center at the New England Aquarium in Boston. If interested, contact the aquarium and let them know your availability. All volunteers must go through a number of training workshops that review species ID, how to sex an animal and protocols for responders. It is a great way of getting involved and better connected with the marine wildlife in your area.

Don't forget, NECWA has a community-sighting network for basking sharks and ocean sunfish. Our New England Basking Shark project asks community volunteers to report sightings of live or dead basking sharks and ocean sunfish observed offshore or stranded on a beach. NECWA is compiling a database on these amazing but not well understood pelagic fish. So check out our NEBShark website (click here) and get involved. We need your eyes and your help.