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Polar Ecosystems Program

U.S. and Russia Collaborate to Study Ice Seals

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Counting seals in the Bering Sea and Arctic waters is a challenging task.

Four species of ice-associated seals are found in the Bering Sea: ribbon seals, spotted seals, bearded seals and ringed seals. The Bering Sea's remote location, along with the cold and unpredictable weather, limit scientists' ability to study these animals in their natural habitat.

Our knowledge about ice-associated seals populations is sparse. Figuring out how to efficiently and safely survey the region for seals has been a focus for scientists at the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center and a multi-agency team of Russian collaborators for several years.

A U.S.-Russia team of researchers including members of the Polar Ecosystems Program has designed a large scale, springtime aerial survey that will rely on advanced imaging systems and modern statistical techniques to provide the first comprehensive estimates of abundance for these species.

Beginning in April 2012, these scientists will survey an immense area spanning the U.S and Russian sides of the Bering Sea. The planned survey will include nearly 19,000 nautical miles (nmi) of track lines over U.S. waters and 11,000 nmi over Russian waters.

The survey constitutes the largest survey effort undertaken to estimate the abundance of these important seal species. The survey will last into May and a second survey is planned during the same time in 2013.

For more information visit the Polar Ecosystem Program's Ice Seal Survey webpage.

By Josh London

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