Seal Week 2022: Celebrating pinniped science and conservation

Welcome to NOAA Fisheries’ first Seal Week! During this week-long celebration, we highlight the science, conservation and management of pinnipeds. Pinnipeds are a group of marine mammals that includes seals, sea lions and walruses. Unlike whales or dolphins, pinnipeds spend time on land to socialize, care for their young, and avoid predators. They are often seen along our shores. All pinnipeds are protected under Marine Mammal Protection Actand some are also listed under Endangered Species Act.

All about pinnipeds

Did you know that the word pinnipeds means “pinnipeds” and that there are three families of pinnipeds? There are: phocids, otariids and odobenids. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, NOAA Fisheries conserves and protects all phocids and otariids (seals and sea lions) in US territorial waters and offshore. Our managers and scientists work with numerous partners to monitor their population dynamics and help species recover.

Phocids (seals)

Phocids are also known as “earless seals” because they have ear holes but no external ear flaps. They swim by propelling themselves through the water with their larger hind flippers (akin to “rear wheel drive”). They move on land, hopping on their bellies. Types of phocids include harbor seals, gray sealsand Hawaiian monk seals.

Otariidae (sea lions and seals)

Otariids have external ear flaps. They swim by pulling themselves through the water with their larger front flippers (akin to “front wheel drive”) and move on land by walking. Otariid species include California sea lions, Steller sea lionsand northern fur seals.

Odobenids (walruses)

Odobenidae are walruses. US Fish and Wildlife is responsible for their conservation.

Seal Science at NOAA Fisheries

Katie Sweeney and Brian Fady prepare to launch a drone on Bogoslov Island, Alaska. Photo: NOAA Fisheries.

NOAA Fisheries uses cutting-edge technology to monitor seals and sea lions.

Drones and artificial intelligence

We use drones to survey northern fur seals near an active volcano in Alaska’s remote Aleutian Island chain. Drones and artificial intelligence can enable more productive and safer seal research.

Through partnerships in the technology industry, we use artificial intelligence to detect ice seals and other marine mammals in images taken during aerial surveys of Arctic ice. Using image analysis will save scientists years of tedious work and make population assessments of Arctic marine mammals faster and more efficient.

DNA analysis

On the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, scientists examine the stomach contents of seals and use DNA to identify prey. We are integrating this information into ecosystem models so that we can better understand the trophic relationships between marine species and how much seal predation contributes to the natural mortality of commercially important fish stocks.

Unusual events with mortality

We also learn about pinnipeds when they are injured, sick or dead. To understand the health of marine mammal populations, scientists study Unusual events with mortality. There are two current UME pinnipeds: Alaskan ice seal UME and on Maine Harbor and Gray Seal UME. Pinnipeds rest on the same beaches we use, eat the same kinds of fish we consume, and swim in the same waters we love. Seals and sea lions are important monitoring species for ocean health. UME research helps us better understand environmental issues that can potentially affect people.

Give space to the seals and sea lions

It’s always exciting to see seals and sea lions resting on the beach or swimming close to shore. Please remember to follow the golden rules for viewing pinnipeds in their natural habitat to protect the animals and yourself.

Stay at least 150 feet away from seals and sea lions — no selfies!

Seals and sea lions must retreat to land to rest, care for their young, and avoid predators. They can be easily disturbed if people get too close, which can be especially harmful to nursing pups. Please keep your dogs on a leash and children away from the animal.

Keep your snacks to yourself

Feeding seals or sea lions teaches them to associate humans with food, attracting them to vessels or people on beaches. Human interaction can end badly for you and the animal.

Do not touch or move seals or sea lions on the beach

They naturally come ashore to rest. Moving sick seals or sea lions into the water can cause them to drown, especially if they are weak or incapacitated. If you find a sick, injured or dead seal, please immediately contact your local blocking network.

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