Updated: February 2, 2012
The ribbon seal that has been sighted in Seattle and Marysville was sighted again in Steamboat Slough in Everett, WA on Tuesday, January 31. The animal was seen hauled out on a private dock in the slough and the property owners promptly called NOAA’s Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Network. A team of biologists from NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center National Marine Mammal Laboratory and NOAA Fisheries Northwest Regional Office convened at the site. The team was able to handle the animal to conduct a basic health assessment with the assistance of Dr. Steve Johnson from PAWS Wildlife. The adult male weighed in at 166.5 lbs. and measured 55 inches in length. These values are well within the average range of its age class. A small skin sample was collected for genetics analysis and the blood samples collected will be analyzed. This information is very valuable and will allow us to assess the overall health of the animal.
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. During the winter months, ribbon seals range throughout the North Pacific Ocean have been previously observed as far south as California. While this is a rare occurrence, the animal likely arrived here on its own and will hopefully make his way back to the Bering Sea soon. 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. Ribbon seals are deep diving seals and can dive to depths in excess of 2000 feet. They primarily feed on pollock and herring as well as some squid species. 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.
The team considered gluing a satellite transmitter to the seal’s hair but decided it was best to limit handling time and focus efforts on collecting critical samples and evaluating the seal’s health and condition. If the animal remains in the area, and attaching a transmitter is warranted, we will rely on the health evaluation to plan for the capture and attachment, keeping the best interest of the animal in mind.
We encourage the public to continue to report sightings of this animal to the NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Specialist, Kristin Wilkinson at 206-526-4747.