With less sea ice, expect seal pups near shore
By Megan Gannon
On Sunday night, a plump ringed seal pup was spotted on the ice in front of Breaker’s Bar on Nome’s Front Street. UAF Alaska Sea Grant agent Gay Sheffield was called and moved the pup to a more secluded beach.
“It was the first relocation of the year,” Sheffield said in an email to The Nome Nugget. “We don’t do many of those regionally. Most people are very respectful and knowledgeable of wildlife and the issue they are facing.”
This pup appeared to be in very healthy condition and was extremely well fed by its mother, Sheffield explained. “This mother was a pro and nursed up a very chunky, healthy pup before she left—as is normal,” she said.
The ice had likely gone out too fast and the mother finished up the normal weaning process on the ice chunks in front of Nome. It was all part of a normal process, but normally that process would not be visible to people on Front Street if the ice was still in.
With the breakup of sea ice and the arrival of open water, seal pups like this one have been observed on or close to beaches in the region. In response, Sheffield has issued a flyer reminding the public that unless you are Alaska Native and harvesting a seal pup for subsistence purposes, you should not approach or touch these animals. Instead, if you think a seal or any other marine wildlife species is in distress, contact Sheffield at (907) 434-1149.
Last week, a ringed seal mother and pup were spotted on the ice a little further east on Front Street. Sheffield explained that pups don’t have much fat when they’re born so the mother needs to offload a tremendous amount of milk very quickly. Pups are weaned in a matter of weeks and then they need to learn how to fish on their own.
That means a seal pup by itself isn’t necessarily a bad sign, especially when it is fat. A seal pup still with its mother, however, might signal that it still needs to eat and hasn’t weaned yet, Sheffield explained. In these cases, the mother is likely trying to find an appropriate place on the ice to put her pup so she can get it in a position to eat.
“With so little ice available currently, they will figure out what they have to do to get the job done,” Sheffield said.