Researchers tagging seals in Penobscot Bay

Posted April 25, 2011, at 3:19 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Scientists have been working for days catching seals in nets, tagging them and then releasing them as part of the 2011 seal count.

The New England harbor seal counts happen every decade and this year are based out of Rockland.

Three boats are visiting coves in Penobscot Bay where researchers catch the seals in a net, weigh them, and place radio tags and a permanent flipper tag on them. The scientists also are taking blood samples from the animals before releasing them back into the salt water.

Then scientists and photographers will fly up the Maine coast and take photographs of all seal-covered ledges. By tracking how many radio-tagged seals are on the rocks at the time of the photograph versus how many radio tagged seals are in the water during the photo shoot, the scientists can estimate the total seal count in Maine, according to Gordon Waring, a research fishery biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

In 2001, the last count, the scientists found 38,000 seals and 9,000 pups on the ledges, but estimate that the New England harbor seal count was closer to 100,000 — meaning many of the seals were busy swimming when the photographers shot their homes.

Waring expects the estimated count will be in the same range this year.

The count wraps up April 28.

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