Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Harp Seals and White-Sided Dolphins

It's well known by now that seals are much more common in Long Island Sound then they used to be. But are dolphins? A column published last week in one of the Shore Publishing chains suggested they are. I asked Penny Howell, of the Connecticut DEP marine fisheries bureau, about it, and Penny referred me to Heather Medic, who is with the Mystic Aquarium and is an expert on marine mammals.

Regarding seals, Heather told me that harbor seals are hanging out in the Sound year-round, and they’re breeding:

That tells us that the population of seals is spreading and there is no real need to migrate.

Harp seals are here now in winter too, the numbers growing as the population in Canada grows. Although Medic's job is to help marine mammals that get stranded on land, she also gets calls from people who simply see a seal and want to tell someone. Last winter she got 120 sighting calls; the winter before there were, 64.

People call us about these seals because they are not like the common harbor seal that hauls out in groups off shore. They don't stay off shore, they will come into yards, lay on beaches and docks along the shore of LIS.

Harp seals are the species that got so much attention some time back when Brigitte Bardot made an issue of hunters clubbing the pups to death for their white skins. As they get older, harp seals develop a silvery fur with darker markings.

In A Field Guide to North Atlantic Wildlife, which Yale University Press published this year, Noble Proctor writes:

The Harp Seal has been regularly reported south of Cape Cod in recent winters, but the odds are still overwhelming that any seal encountered south of Nova Scotia will be either a Gray Seal or a Harbor Seal.

He adds that you should look for harp seals in southern New England, “but don’t expect to see them.” Unless of course one decides to haul out in your backyard.

As she was referring my dolphin question to Heather Medic, Penny Howell mentioned that both white-sided and comon dolphins have been know to venture into the Sound. Last week's newspaper report was of a sighting of bottlenose dolphins. Medic said she gets far fewer calls about dolphins and isn’t sure if their numbers are going up or down. But if fish are around, dolphins can be there too, as long as the water is salty and 10 feet deep or more:

There is nothing uncommon about this.

… I hear fishermen say I saw this or that so I would say nothing is different. Dolphins are found outside the LIS so if they are following a school of fish they could easily be seen in the LIS. I had a humpback whale in Niantic in 2003 in 60 ft of water. He left as fast as he came in, but not before he jumped off the bow of a fisherman's boat. We have many seals, dolphins and whales right outside the LIS and if there is enough water for the animals to come into the LIS they will for fish. The question we need to ask is if fishing is better then it used to be.


Post a Comment

<< Home

eXTReMe Tracker