Updated: January 25, 2012
NOTE: Please refer to our original story "Ribbon Seal Sighted" in our "News Updates" section.
On January 11, 2012 a ribbon seal was sighted in the Duwamish River in Seattle, WA. The photos revealed it was an adult male which appeared to be in good condition. After the initial sighting, no other reports of the seal came in until Friday, January 20, when it was spotted in central Snohomish County. As it was reportedly coming and going from this site for a couple of days it was possible for Kristin Wilkinson, a marine mammal stranding specialist from NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, to observe and photograph the animal. A team of biologists from NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center National Marine Mammal Laboratory, NOAA Fisheries Northwest Regional Office and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Marine Mammal Investigations also convened at the site. The team planned to conduct health assessments on the animal and attach a satellite tag using non-invasive methods. The satellite tag would have allowed the team to track its movements after release in an effort to monitor its condition and determine if any further intervention is warranted. Unfortunately, the animal apparently decided to move on and has not been seen since.
As it is extremely unusual to find this pinniped species in our area, NOAA Fisheries requests that any future sightings be reported as soon as possible. Please contact NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Stranding Specialist Kristin Wilkinson at 206-526-4747. This line is monitored 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Species Information: Ribbon seals (Phoca fasciata) are one of four species of ice-associated seals found in the North Pacific Ocean and Alaska waters. Ribbon seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. In December 2011 NOAA Fisheries announced it is reviewing their status for potential listing under the Endangered Species Act.
Adult ribbon seals measure, on average, five feet long and can weigh over 200 lbs. Ribbon seals normally inhabit the North Pacific Ocean, especially the Bering and Okhotsk Seas. Ribbon seals have also been observed in parts of the Arctic Ocean, including the Chukchi, eastern Siberian, and western Beaufort Seas. They are strongly associated with sea ice for mating, whelping pups and molting from mid-March through June. The rest of the year is spent at sea; they are rarely seen on land. No reliable estimates of abundance or population trends are available at this time. NOAA Fisheries National Marine Mammal Laboratory is planning to conduct a large-scale aerial survey of almost the entire known range in Spring 2012 and Spring 2013. In addition, the National Marine Mammal Laboratory has previously conducted research cruises to the Bering Sea to increase our knowledge of the species' distribution, behavior, population structure, health and diet.
For additional species information: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/pinnipeds/ribbonseal.htm and http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/protectedresources/seals/ice.htm