Rare Ribbon Seal Sighting In Prince William Sound

A ribbon seal photographed in Prince William Sound July 9th, 2014. Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
A ribbon seal photographed in Prince William Sound July 9th, 2014. Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service boat crewed by Gloria Zager, Patti Sullivan, Karen Sinclair and Marty Reedy.

A federal wildlife technician got a rare treat in Prince William Sound yesterday. Marty Reedy was driving a boat for a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seabird and marine mammal survey when a colleague pointed out a seal that didn’t look quite right. Reedy, who has also worked in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, knew immediately what the animal was- a ribbon seal:

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“I just could not believe my eyes. I kept thinking to myself, I must be seeing something wrong, but if you look at a picture of these guys, there’s no doubt what it was. We see a lot of wonderful stuff out in the sound but to see something like that, is pretty unique and special.”

Reedy drove the boat closer and snapped a picture of a male ribbon seal hauled out on a chunk of glacial ice. He found the animal in the northwest section of the sound, but doesn’t want to give an exact location.

Peter Boveng is a seal expert with the National Marine Mammal Lab in Seattle. He says ribbon seals spend their winters in the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. But this time of year, they are roamers and have been spotted as far south as British Colombia and Washington. He’s not surprised one turned up in Prince William Sound, and says the seal is on the fringes of its summer range:

“They go into a pelagic phase where essentially they’re in the water all the time. They seem to be mostly solitary. So people don’t see ribbon seals really anywhere this time of year with any frequency or commonness.”

A ribbon seal was found in Cook Inlet in Anchorage in 2007.

Boveng says if this seal is healthy, he should be able to find his way back north to the Bering Sea for the winter breeding season.

 

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Annie Feidt is the Editor and Producer of Alaska News Nightly, and is also a frequent contributor to the show. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace. Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49thstate just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon. afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie