SAINT JOHN, N.B. -- A New Brunswick environment group, that has spent the last few years studying the populations of harbour seals in Saint John, N.B., now has an eye in the sky.

The Atlantic Coastal Action Program – or ACAP Saint John – has teamed up with a local researcher to get drone footage of the animals in their natural habitats.

"You can likely see them in low tide. When the tide is low, they'll haul out on rocks and that's just to sunbathe themselves in the sun and to rest rather than swimming," said Shauna Sands, the conservation coordinator for ACAP Saint John.

Little is known about the harbour seals – or sea dogs, as they are sometimes called – including population information.

"In terms of seals, the only real seal data that we have in the Saint John harbour was data that was collected by Dr. Jack Terhune in the 1990s," Sands explained.

That's now changing thanks to ACAP Saint John. The program has embarked in a multi-year harbour seal monitoring project to learn more about the animals.

The group also teamed up with Gina Lonati, a PhD student at the University of New Brunswick Saint John campus, who is studying the health of North Atlantic Right Whales using drones.

Lonati is now using that technology to help spot seals, allowing researchers to get an aerial view of haul-out sites.

"We launch the drone from land and we have a visual observer who keeps an eye on the drone while we're flying, and usually a third person who's also monitoring the seals behaviour and taking a simultaneous count of the seals," explained Lonati.

The aerial perspective also allows researchers to keep an eye out for any injured or entangled seals.

"There's a zoom on the camera so we can actually get really close up images of the seals and inspect them, make sure they're healthy," said Lonati. "Look for debris or ay injuries that might warrant an intervention."

The group says, with the help from DFO scientists from Halifax and Quebec, they hope to tag three seals this fall in order to help further their research.