Environmental Projects: Kotzebue Sound 2004-2006 Young Bearded Seal Satellite Tagging Project:

Fall 2006

Project Highlights

Nine bearded seal pups (ugrutchiaq) were tagged during the fall 2006 field season for a total of 26 seals in three years. This is 14 more than our goal of 12 in the original proposal for the project. The project was intended to last only three years, but because of cost efficiencies, interest by the community, local participation and additional contributions by the cooperators, we were able to conduct a third year of tagging. In 2006, f ive were males and four were females. Overall during the three years, 13 males and 13 females were tagged. This sample size will allow us to compare the movements and diving of males and females. Two months after tagging, six tags were still transmitting data. One tagged seal was shot by a hunter near Shishmaref. The other two tags failed for unknown reasons.

Tribal members John Goodwin , Cyrus Harris and their crews netted the seals that were tagged in 2006. Seven seals were tagged while the scientists were in Kotzebue and two after they left. John Goodwin and Doc Harris assisted in tagging seals while the scientists were present, and John tagged or supervised the tagging of the seals caught after they left. John is an official Co-Investigator under the ADF&G Scientific Permit to tag seals. Doc Harris received training in handling, tagging and sampling live seals in 2006 and was named a Co-Investigator under the ADF&G Scientific Permit near the end of the project. This means that John and Doc are authorized to tag seals and collect samples for this project when a biologist is not present.

As a test project, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) donated three tags to be used on adult ringed seals. Two females and one male ringed seal were tagged after the scientists left in mid to late October. Two tags failed almost immediately for unknown reasons, but one was successfully transmitting two months after it was deployed. Up until now, no researchers have been able to catch ringed seals in open water and tag them. They have only been caught in the winter using dogs to find their snow caves. We hope to further develop this catching technique in 2007 and put tags on 8-12 ringed seals next fall.

Movement's data for both bearded seals and the ringed seal is being distributed weekly or every two weeks by email to more than 50 individuals throughout Alaska and elsewhere. In addition, information is posted weekly on the Kotzebue IRA web page. Project participants John Goodwin and Michael Cameron gave a project update to the Alaska Ice Seal Committee in October 2006. Michael Cameron will present a poster about the project at the Marine Science in Alaska Symposium in Anchorage in January 2007.

Project Activities

Kotzebue area participants for fall 2006 field work included two crews: John Goodwin and his crew members DanSavetilik and Tom Jones and Cyrus Harris and his crew members Doc Harris, Grover Harris and Lee Harris. Scientific participants included Kathy Frost , Rob DeLong Michael Cameron . Kotzebue IRA staff Alex Whiting assisted with administrative and scientific aspects of the project. The field season took place during September 28th - October 27th , 2006 . Scientific participants were present in Kotzebue from October 1st -10th . From October 10th -2th , catching activities were conducted by John Goodwin , Cyrus Harris and their crews. John Goodwin tagged or supervised the tagging of seals after the scientists left. John is a co-investigator under ADF&G's permit to tag seals. He was assisted by Doc Harris, who became a Co-Investigator near the end of the project.

The first nets were set by John Goodwin , Cyrus Harris and their crews on September 28th . Temperatures were in the low 40s with no ice present. Fall was late to arrive in 2006 and freeze-up was later than in 2004 or 2005. Few spotted seals were present when the nets were first set and the bearded seals were not yet “running.” Each crew set three 100-250 ft nets in the Sisualiq area in 5-10 ft of water. A ringed seal pup was caught on September 29th and a spotted seal pup on September 30th.

Biologists Kathy Frost , Mike Cameron and Rob Delong arrived on October 1st and 2nd and began accompanying John Goodwin and his crew on October 3rd . Temperatures continued in the high 30s and low 40s with winds less than 15 knots. A single spotted seal pup was caught and released on October 2nd . The first juvenile bearded seal was caught by John Goodwin on October 3 rd when the water was quite muddy. This was a very large (250-300#) female. She was tagged in the boat with a SPLASH tag by Frost and Goodwin, and released from the boat.

No bearded seals were caught on October 4th and 5th . The water was clear. A ringed seal pup was caught and released on October 5th . On October 6th , Goodwin's nets caught 2 spotted seals and 1 yearling ringed seal. Harris's crew caught 1 bearded seal. This seal was tagged on the beach by Cameron with an oceanographic CTD tag, and released at the tagging site. On October 7th , 3 spotted seals and 5 bearded seals were caught (water muddy). Four of the bearded seals were tagged with CTD tags and one with a SPLASH tag. All were released at the tagging location at Sisualiq. One spotted seal and no bearded seals were caught on October 8th.

Frost, Delong and Cameron left Kotzebue on October 10th . John Goodwin , Cyrus Harris and their crews set nets near Sisualik from October 10th -27th . One adult ringed seal was tagged on October 12th and two others on October 18 th and 19th. One bearded seal pup was tagged on October 20th. The first day of freezing weather in Kotzebue Sound was October 21st. The final bearded seal was caught and tagged on October 22nd. Ice began running out of Kobuk Lake on about October 22nd and no young bearded seals were caught after that. All seals were caught in nets set close to shore, and brought to the beach for tagging. All were released at the tagging location. Catch activities ceased on October 27th when the ocean froze.

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