Saint John group plans detailed study on 'sea dogs'
You only have to go as far as the harbour in Saint John to catch a glimpse of them, but seals remain a bit a mystery for researchers.
That's why one group has launched a project to learn more about them, and they're calling on the public to help.
Looking out to the water from Harbour Passage, it's not an unlikely sight to see the shiny, dark head of a sea dog in the distance.
"It's very common for residents and tourists to have seal sightings and to have known that there are seals here for a great many years," said Graeme Stewart Robertson, the executive director of the Atlantic Coastal Action Program (ACAP).
But the harbour seals here remain something of a mystery to researchers. Not much is known about them, including how many there are and how much time they spend in Saint John. These are gaps the ACAP is working on filling in.
"What we're embarking on is a study to better understand that population, whether it's trending upward as many believe it is and to get a better understanding of what their relationship with the freshwater system and the Wolastoq is," Stewart Robertson said.
The black dots on this map represent seal haul-out sites --- areas where seals pull out of the water on reefs and rocks to lay for a while and relax.
"This study is going to be taking place over a two-year period, with researchers monitoring haul-out sites every two weeks and recording the number of seals that they see," Stewart Robertson said.
ACAP also wants residents to take part in the project, asking them to use a seal sighting submission form on their website to pin-point where they've spotted a sea dog.
"We can't be everywhere all the time and we know that for years, ACAP has received community photos or suggestions of places where seals are active and we want to take advantage of that citizen scientists and use it as a part of our research," Stewart Robertson said.
In the fall, the group will radio-tag some seals so they can map where they travel.
"Much like people might have seen with whales or sharks where you can follow online where an individual great white might be, we're going to have that same technology around some of these seal individuals," said Stewart Robertson.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Laura Lyall.