Why are Seals Wearing Beanies in Port Susan?

Published: June 15, 2022
By Natural Resources Wildlife Program Staff

No, it’s not a fashion statement, but tagged seals might tell us something about what is eating Chinook salmon in the Stillaguamish River. In January 2022, the Wildlife Program joined forces with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and US Navy (Naval Station Everett) to place Global Positioning System (GPS) tags and colorful beanies on harbor seals in Port Susan and Port Gardner. This work is being funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service through the Tribal Wildlife Grant. The project will help answer multiple questions, including: do seals move up river for food during the Chinook migration and where do the seals spend time in the bay? Tribal staff and partners are interested in monitoring seal movements and how those movements correspond with out-migrating juvenile salmon and returning adults. Answering these questions will help us decide if seals are having a negative impact on salmon recovery.

Tagging seals is not an easy task and it takes a lot of people. We first have to find them hauled-out on the mud and then we have to convince them to enter a seine net. Once captured, seals are placed in a hoop net where they await processing.

Some of the seals get a quick shot of medication to mellow them out so they are more cooperative and won’t remember the handling. Once they are relaxed, they are restrained using body weight (thanks Gary!), measured, sampled (blood and tissues), and then they receive a flipper ID tag, GPS tag and adorable beanie. The tags and beanies are glued to the outer fur and will fall off when the seals molt their hair coat in September. Once outfitted, they are released back into Port Susan.

We hope to collect all the tags after the molt and reapply them in 2023. The goal is to have data from at least 32 seals so we will have a good idea whether or not these animals move upriver to feed. We have already collected some amazing data and we are excited to learn more about where these animals go in Port Susan and beyond!

Many staff in the Natural Resources Department (even our fearless Director) have assisted in the seal
captures and we really appreciate it!

Natural Resources Wildlife Program
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