The team assembled in Kotzebue the last week of September for the first attempt at seal capture.The first two days in the field were spent at Ivik, setting nets and searching the area of northeast Kobuk Lake for signs of bearded seals.A few seals were observed, but none were caught. Next the island area off of Kotzebue was tried, where two spotted seals were captured alive and healthy in the nets.Both were released unharmed.A net set off the beach at Sisualiq captured a two-year old female bearded seal, but an unfortunate combination of weather and tide allowed ice that had formed behind the peninsula to move out and cover the net, killing the seal.The research assistant salvaged the seal for meat.This ended the attempts to net in the area surrounding Sisualiq (see capture area map).
At Ivik, a ringed seal, three spotted seals and a female juvenile bearded seal were all captured alive and healthy during this time. On October 5th the bearded seal was transported to town and fitted with satellite tag – Number 53604.She was released on the same day a couple of miles west of town and traveled straight out into the Sound, eventually ending up off of Point Hope, where she stayed until October 31st when she traveled to Sealing Point staying until November 5th when she traveled back to the area off of Point Hope (see location map).
A second female juvenile seal was captured near Ivik on October 10th.On October 12th she was transported to town, fitted with satellite tag – Number 53605 and released from the beach in front of town. She traveled WSW and ended up in Eschscholtz Bay where she stayed feeding until November 2nd when she traveled to Cape Espenberg (see location map).
Both seals were well behaved during the capture, transport and tagging process and were released in good shape. They both appear to being doing well and their movements will continue to be monitored as long as the satellites continue to send information, which in the best-case scenario will include most of the winter and spring of 2005. Maps will be updated and posted on this website on a weekly basis.
(A) Seals were captured by using large-mesh nets in open water in fall. Kotzebue hunters participated in or conducted all seal capture activities. The nets used to catch seals have a solid foam-core float line (no corks) and a thin light lead line. They are 100’ x l2’ and have zippers on the ends so they can be joined into larger nets if needed. The nets have 12” stretch mesh and are made of dyed twine. The nets are designed light enough that the seals are able to easily float and breathe after they are caught. In addition some net sites are shallow enough that a seal can be touching the bottom while its head is above water. The water where most of the nets were set is less than 5 feet deep.
In 2005, nets were set in York’s Bay during the last half of September and near Sisualik in early October. During two weeks in late September, scientists worked with tribal member John Goodwin to set nets and tag seals. During that time information was shared about how to set nets more efficiently, where nets should be set, and methods for disentangling, tagging and measuring seals. John Goodwin received the training necessary to become an official co-investigator on the project, which allowed him to tag seals when scientists were not present. Seals were tagged under Alaska Department of Fish and Game Scientific Permit No. 358-1585 (Amendments 07 and 08).
The scientists left on September 29 th and after that all nets were set near Sisualik. Tribal member John Goodwin and Cyrus Harris both set nets along the beach at Sisualik and near Nuvugraq. They continued until October 11 th when ice conditions prevented further netting. In total, 15 bearded seal pups were tagged in 2005. Three were caught in York’s Bay and the other 12 were caught off of Sisualik. All seals captured in 2005 were found alive and in good health, except for one large pup or yearling that was captured off of Wolf Creek and drowned. Another smaller bearded seal was caught alive and healthy in the other end of the same net. The seal that was drowned was tangled in a single mesh and the anchor line was free. It is unknown why it drowned. A tribal member cooperating on the project salvaged the seal for food.
When a bearded seal was captured it was transferred from the catch net to a smaller hoop net so it could be safely restrained and transported to the tagging site. Some seals were tagged in the boat and others were taken to the beach for tagging. Each seal was measured and checked to determine whether it was a male or a female. When scientists were present each seal was sampled for blood, blubber and DNA. Satellite depth recorders (SDRs) were glued to the hair on the back of the seal using quick-setting epoxy. The tags will be shed when the animals molt in the spring. The tags used are the newest, smallest, lightest and most streamlined of tags used for seal work to date. They not only tell where the seal is located, but also how deep it dives, how long it dives, and how long it spends at the surface and at certain depths. The tags are about 4” long, an inch wide, and an inch and a half high. They are powered by a single C cell lithium battery, which is activated by being submersed in water and should last for 50,000 signals to the satellite (about one year, or until the seal molts in the spring when the tag will fall off). The tags have a 7” flexible whip antennae that is located on top of the tag and rides above the water when the seal is at the surface. The antennae are easily seen from a distance, allowing hunters to visually identify tagged seals and hopefully avoid premature removal from the project.
SDRs transmit to receivers operated by Service Argos on board National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration polar orbiting satellites. The Argos data collection and location system records the date and time of each signal received by the satellite and calculates a location for the tag whenever sufficient uplinks are received during a satellite pass. A multi-stage process will be used to screen out erroneous location records. SDRs will include a conductivity sensor that indicates whether the tag is dry or submerged and a pressure sensor to determine dive depths. Location records and associated data will be put into an ArcInfo geographic information system (GIS) and plotted using ArcView. Maps will be distributed to interested parties weekly and posted on the Tribal website.
(B) In addition, small samples of skin were obtained for genetics analysis from subsistence-caught seals and preserved in a solution of DMSO and salt. These samples will be used to examine genetic variation in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and will be contributed to an ongoing study by ADF&G and NMFS to examine stock structure of bearded seals in Alaska. Greg O’Corry Crowe and Aquatic Farms at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center will analyze samples. Greg has worked with the Alaska Beluga Whale Committee to analyze beluga DNA and to understand stock structure of belugas harvested by Alaska hunters.
Fifteen bearded seal pups (ugrutchiaq) were tagged during the fall 2005 field season for a total of 17 seals in two years. This is five more than our goal of 12 in the original proposal for the project. Eight were males and seven were females, which will allow us to compare the movements and diving of males and females. One month after tagging, all 15 tags were still transmitting data.
Tribal members John Goodwin and Cyrus Harris, plus friends and families, successfully netted 12 of the 15 seals that were tagged in 2005. John Goodwin received training in handling and tagging live seals and was named an official Co-Investigator under the ADF&G Scientific Permit to tag seals. He tagged 11 of the seals caught after the scientific party left. Alex Whiting tagged the last seal of the season on October 11th.
As an add-on to this project, the National Marine Mammal Lab tagged five spotted seals (3 pups and 2 adult males). These were caught during bearded seal tagging activities. Spotted seals were last tagged in 1994 in Kasegaluk Lagoon near point Lay. Winter movement’s information from the Kotzebue spotted seals will be compared to movements of spotted seals 10 years ago.
Movement’s data for both bearded seals and spotted seals is being distributed weekly by email to more than 50 individuals throughout Alaska and elsewhere. In addition, information is posted weekly on the Kotzebue IRA web page. It will be presented at the 16th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in December 2005. Project participants John Goodwin and Michael Cameron will give a project update to the Alaska Ice Seal Committee in early 2006.
John and Pearl Goodwin conducted reconnaissance field work in northeastern Kobuk Lake (Hotham Inlet) on 12-13 September. This area is locally referred to as York’s Bay. The Goodwins set several nets but did not catch anything nor did they see any young bearded seals (ugurachaqs). Kathy Frost, Rob DeLong and Michael Cameron arrived on September 16 th. Three nets were set near Sisualik on September 17 th. The weather was excellent with light winds, high water and temperatures in the low to mid-50s. No seals were caught or seen in the area.
On September 18 th, all nets were moved to York’s Bay. From September 18 th-28 th seal catching activities were conducted in York’s Bay. Water depth in this area is generally < 6 ft, with many creeks and sloughs entering the bay. Young bearded seals are present in these areas during fall just before and during freeze-up. Temperatures throughout this period were in the high 40s or low 50s F. It was an unseasonably warm September with no freezing temperatures or any signs of ice or snow.
After initial exploratory sets, seal nets were set in two areas. The first was near Wolf Creek and the second in or near Ugrivik Creek. These are areas where local residents hunt bearded seal pups in the fall, and near where two were caught and tagged by this project in 2004. The water is very shallow (3-6 ft) and muddy without much current. Creeks are surrounded by low willow and birch tundra where young bearded seals sometimes haul out in the grass. Up to six nets were set each night. Nets were checked daily unless high winds and storm conditions prevented boating activities. There was only one period when nets were not checked daily, and that was during September 21-23 when wind speeds were 35-60 mph throughout Kotzebue Sound and precluded all boating activity.
Two live bearded seal pups and one spotted seal pup were caught on September 24 th after the days of stormy weather when the nets could not be checked. One bearded seal pup was caught at the mouth of Wolf Creek and the other at the mouth of Ugrivik Creek. A second dead bearded seal pup/yearling was caught at the mouth of Wolf Creek in the same net (opposite end) as the live one. The spotted seal pup was caught well up Ugrivik Creek in a side branch near the entrance to a small lake. All three seals were loaded into the boat and taken back to Kotzebue for tagging. Tagging was done by Frost, Cameron and Delong with assistance from Goodwins. Seals were released several miles offshore from Kotzebue in hopes that they would move offshore where they would not be subject to hunting.
On September 25 th, after project nets were set, Michael Cameron set and attended a net at the entrance to York Bay near Theodore Creek (66.94º N, 161.52º W). This was a monofilament net especially designed to catch seals during daylight hours. This net was set under a NMML permit to catch and tag seals as part of a different project. Two spotted seal pups of the year were caught within 30 minutes of net deployment. Both were taken back to Kotzebue where they were instrumented with SDRs and released. These seals were released on the beach west of Kotzebue. Information for these seals will be reported by NMML under their scientific research permit 782-1676.
On September 26 th, a very large male bearded seal pup (mass estimated >350 pounds) was caught at the mouth of Wolf Creek. This seal was sampled, measured and tagged in the boat, then released in the channel west of Kotzebue.
On September 27 th, no seals were caught in York’s Bay. A high wind warning was in effect for the next day or two, so all nets were pulled out of York’s Bay. Nets were reset near a sand bar/island by the navigational channel off Kotzebue and also near Sisualik. On September 28 th, one large male spotted seal was caught in the offshore channel net. This seal was tagged in the boat and released near where it was caught. Another medium-sized male spotted seal was caught on September 29 th in the same area. Nothing was caught in the nets near Sisualik, although at least one bearded seal pup was seen.
Frost, Delong and Cameron left Kotzebue on September 29 th. John Goodwin and/or Cyrus Harris set nets near Sisualik from September 30 th-October 15 th. September 28 th was the first day of near-freezing weather in Kotzebue Sound. Ice began running out of Kobuk Lake on October 1 st and young bearded seals were commonly seen near Sisualik from then until freeze-up. Seals were caught and tagged on September 30 th, October 1 st-4 th, October 7 th and October 11 th. They were caught in nets set very close to shore, and pulled to the beach for tagging. All but two were released at the tagging location. Those two were released at Kotzebue. Catch activities ceased on October 15 th when freezing conditions and snow prevented further netting and tagging activities.
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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.
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.