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Harbor Seal Surveys and Time-lapse Camera Tests in Cook Inlet

The Polar Ecosystems Program (PEP) successfully conducted a thorough aerial survey of harbor seals in southern Cook Inlet (south of Nikiski) and the Barren Islands during 9-16 October 2003. The survey time was chosen to allow seasonal contrast with previous June and August surveys conducted as part of a study of harbor seals in Cook Inlet under an Interagency Agreement between the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (see July-September 2003 issue of the Quarterly Report). Southern Cook Inlet was divided into two survey regions, and two survey aircraft were used to survey the two regions daily. The survey regions and flight routes were altered from previous surveys: one plane was used to survey the Kachemak Bay region, and another plane was used to survey the larger “western region” of Kamishak Bay, Barren Islands, and west Cook Inlet. During the daily surveys, observers in each plane identified haul-out sites, recorded the location of each site, and took pictures of the seals hauled out at each site. NMML personnel will count seals in these survey photos, and those counts will be used to estimate the abundance of harbor seals in southern Cook Inlet during October 2003.

In conjunction with the aerial surveys, NMML personnel tested time-lapse camera systems, which will be used to investigate factors influencing the haul-out behavior of harbor seals. Once perfected, these camera systems will be deployed at selected harbor seal haul-out sites in Cook Inlet to monitor the numbers of harbor seals hauled out throughout the year with hourly photographs. Following the October surveys, four remote time-lapse cameras were deployed on a small islet near Aurora Lagoon in Kachemak Bay (26 km ENE of Homer). These cameras were programmed to record one digital image each hour, during daylight hours (10:00 - 18:00 Alaska Standard Time). The four cameras were positioned to ensure complete photographic coverage of all haul-out areas surrounding the islet. Images will be downloaded from the cameras in early spring. Results from this winter test of the camera systems will be evaluated, and the system may be modified to address any problems.

By Mike Simpkins, Peter Boveng, and Bob Montgomery.

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