Coming Face to Face With Grey Seal Pups

National Aquarium Animal Rescue recently joined several partner organizations on an excursion up north to study grey seal pups in their natural habitat.

Published March 21, 2019

As many of you know, National Aquarium Animal Rescue rescues and rehabilitates several seal species that strand along the mid-Atlantic coast when the weather turns cold. Studying these seals in their natural habitat is important to better understand their behavior and biology.

Grey seal

Activities conducted pursuant to NMFS MMPA Permit No. 21719 

Monomoy Island—off Chatham, Cape Cod in Massachusetts—is known as one of the largest breeding and pupping grounds in the United States for grey seals starting in mid-December through early February.

National Aquarium Rehabilitation Biologist Margot Madden recently spent several days at Monomoy with colleagues from Tufts University, NOAA, UCONN and others to gather important data and samples from these seals—including samples of nasal discharge, fur, skin and even whiskers!

The team also weighs, measures and tags each pup they work with—no easy feat, as grey seal pups are known to be strong and unyielding.

With all this data, the researchers are hoping understand a few key items relative to the health and behavior of these seals—mainly the prevalence of the influenza A virus in this population, how it’s transmitted and why some animals are more susceptible to its effects than others. For example, the influenza virus can be devastating to harbor seals that contract it, but doesn’t seem to affect grey seals as much or as seriously.

The researchers also use the skin samples collected to analyze the genetics and relationships between the grey seal pups found on Monomoy Island. On several occasions, tagged seals have stranded again along the East Coast, providing valuable insights into the migratory patterns of these grey seals.

Learn more about grey seals in their natural habitats!

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