Subject: Info: Increase in Maine Seals

Michael Williamson (whe_william)
Mon, 1 Sep 1995 20:21:04

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Date: Fri, 01 Sep 1995 20:23:32 -0400 (EDT)
From: Michael Williamson <WHE_WILLIAM@FLO.ORG>
Subject: Info:  Increase in Maine Seals
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Subj:	Growing Maine seal population
Date:         Fri, 1 Sep 1995 10:16:23 PDT
Reply-To:     Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion
Sender:       Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion
Subject:      Growing Maine seal population
To:           Multiple recipients of list MARMAM <MARMAM@UVVM.BITNET>
----------------------------Original message----------------------------
Growing Maine seal population raises questions
    By Allan Dowd
     TENANTS HARBOR, Maine (Reuter) - When a hooded seal nearly
the size of a pick-up truck wandered onto a highway in this
coastal community it did more than tie up traffic.
     The animal's appearance dramatized the recent growth of
Maine's seal population and the arrival of species not normally
found on the state's rocky shores. The population of Harbor
seals in Maine has doubled in the past decade to more than
28,000, but marine mammal experts admit they are not sure why
the animals are doing so well.
     "What's exciting or disturbing, depending on who you talk
to, is that we've (also) seen more Gray seals, and once in a
while we're seeing a few 'ice' seals," said James Gilbert, a
University of Maine wildlife professor.
     Gray seals and ice seals, whose varieties include harp,
hooded and ringed seals, have traditionally stayed closer to the
Arctic, making their homes in Newfoundland and around the Gulf
of St. Lawrence.
     Experts say the population of Harbor seals is not only
increasing; females are also having pups at an earlier age,
increasing the number of young seals in the herd.
     "This is an indication of a very healthy population,"
Gilbert said.
     Maine, with its rocky coast and numerous coastal islands,
provides an ideal home for seals, which spend much of their time
in the water but rest and breed on ledges. Much of the
speculation about the cause of the seals' success centers on the
collapse of stocks of groundfish such as cod, haddock and
flounder because of overfishing in the North Atlantic.
     Depletion of the groundfish has allowed the stocks of
other "non-commercial" fish species to multiply and provided
the seals with a food supply they did have to compete  for with
     "They're very opportunistic," Gilbert said. "They're just
as smart as dogs or coyotes."
     Others believe Canadian seals that were more dependent on
groundfish have been forced south by a lack of food, but
officials there contend the herds are doing well.
     "There is certainly no indication that they have left,"
said Jean Hache, a senior advisor to the Department of Oceans
and Fisheries in Ottawa.
     Canada conducted its annual harvest of seal pups in April
and is hoping for increased exports of pelts despite protests
from international animal rights groups. Federal law makes it
illegal to kill seals in the United States and the animals'
protected status has angered Maine's aquaculture industry, which
blames them for millions of dollars in losses each year.
     "They won't give us the right to protect our equipment and
our product and they won't recompense us if we do lose it,"
complained Frank Ayers, who raises salmon in pens in the waters
off Eastport.
     Conservationists contend that "fish farms" such as Ayers'
can be protected by non-lethal means and a federal task force is
now studying the issue.
     Gilbert doubts the number of seals have reached historic
highs yet, since this period of population growth follows
several decades in which the size of the herd had declined.
     Wildlife experts also acknowledge they do not know how long
the seal herds will continue to grow.
     "At this stage in the game we've not seen any slowing down
in the rate of increase in the population size so we don't know
where that plateau is," Gilbert said.
     As the seal population grows, officials admit that conflicts
between the animals and their human neighbors will likely
increase as well.
     "More and more ledges are going to be occupied by seals in
the summertime and we'll have more potential for conflict with
the fisheries and more disturbances by boat people looking at
the seals," Gilbert said.