Environmental Projects: Kotzebue Sound 2007-2008 Ringed Seal Satellite Tagging Project:

Fall 2007

Project Methods and Results

Two types of tags were put out in 2007: (12) SPLASH tags and (4) SPOT tags. SPLASH tags provide information about seal movements and how long and how deep the seals dive. SPLASH tags provide more frequent location data as they are able to transmit when the antennae is above water which happens when the seal surfaces for air or hauls out on ice. The SPLASH tags were fitted in the neck saddle as it slopes towards the shoulders and glued on the hair using 5-minute epoxy. All twelve SPLASH tags were successfully deployed.

Seal Seal
Seal Seal

 

SPOT tags are attached to the hind flipper by punching two holes through the skin between the toe bones. The tag has a clip on its underside which is slipped into the hole closest to the body so the antennae points away from the flipper. The tag is secured through the second hole using a small screw. Spot tags only transmit when the seal hauls out of the water, since the hind flippers remain underwater when the seal surfaces for air.

Seal Seal
Seal Seal

 

The goal for the season was to tag 18 ringed seals in Kotzebue Sound, preferably adult seals older than two years of age. The Principal Investigators were Kathy Frost, Alex Whiting, and John Goodwin. The Research Assistants were Lee Harris, Jerry Jones, Doc Harris III, Cyrus Harris, Grover Harris Sr., and Pearl Goodwin.

The base of field operations was located at the Tribal Elders Camp at the tip of the Sisualik spit 10 miles north of Kotzebue across the inner Sound. John and Pearl Goodwin were the field managers of the camp and directed catching and tagging activity. Seals were brought to the tent where they could be worked on in a warmer place out of the wind.

Camp
Tagging Seal

 

Jim Kincaid of Northwestern Aviation supplied transportation to and from Kotzebue for personnel and supplies. All-terrain vehicles were used to transport supplies, gear, seals, personnel, boats and generally be able to move about Sisualik. Aluminum boats small enough to be beached were used to check nets.

Northwestern Aviation ATV
ATV

 

The seals were captured using the same nets that had successfully been used on the recently concluded Kotzebue Sound bearded seal tagging project. The nets were 200 feet long and used float line instead of individual floats. 30 pound mud pick anchors were used to secure them in place and A3 polyform buoys were used to mark their location. Capture efforts began on 10/05/2007 when the camp became occupied and nets went out in the water. Kotzebue hunters conducted all seal capture activities. Seals were tagged under Alaska Department of Fish and Game Scientific Permit No. 358-1787-00. Seals were placed in hoop nets for transfer to the tagging tent where they were restrained using stretchers.

Net Netted Seal
Netted Seal Netted Seal

 

The conditions this year were on the early freeze-up side with most of the inner sound having been frozen by the time the project started. This was 3 weeks earlier than in the past three seasons of seal capture work. This meant additional work and vigilance to keep the nets fee of ice and working.

Skiff Net
Skiff

 

A revised field note book was developed and extra efforts were made to get complete morphometric and catch information for each satellite tagged seal. A bipod and sling were made by John and Pearl to weigh seals on the beach. This worked very successfully and allowed us to get weights on live ringed seals and young bearded seals, which has rarely been done in the field before.

Weighing seal
Weighing seal

 

Kathy Frost came to Kotzebue and went to the tagging camp on 10/15/2007 and began taking blood samples from all seals captured, whether satellite tagged or not. She also trained the capture team to collect blood. Team members first practiced on a dead bearded seal so they could understand the process better. DNA was also collected during the entire project from all seals possible.

Blood samples
Seal

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