Two weeks ago when I was in Iceland, I read the Icelandic harbour seal population has declined by 77% since 1980, when the first aerial seal count estimated a population at 33,000 animals. A 2011 census estimated 11,000 to 12,000 seals. The most recent aerial census in summer 2016 estimated 7,700 seals.
Icelandic researchers state a population below 12,000 seals indicates the species is endangered and at the current rate of decline that could be a critical tipping point to an unsustainable population. One of the major contributing factors believed to be responsible for the seal population decline is by-catch of seals in fishing nets, along with hunting of seals, primarily to protect Icelandic fisheries areas.
Monterey, California – where wild sea mammals are seen
My home town of Monterey, California is recognized as one of the great locations of the world for viewing marine mammals. A stroll along local beaches and coastline is an almost guaranteed opportunity to view dozens of Pacific harbor seals basking on the rocks and sandy beaches. There are also a few sea otters to be seen, floating on kelp forests of Monterey Bay. The barking of California sea lions amassed on rocks offshore is a sound familiar around here. Gray whales and humpback whales can frequently be seen from the coast too.
Monterey is a town of 30,000 people, yet attracts some 4.5 million visitor nights. Marine mammals are one of our greatest tourist attractions for the area.
April is Pacific Harbor Seal pup season
California has about 31,000 Pacific harbor seals. Many colonies live around the Monterey Bay. Seals are territorial and generally remain within a few miles of their birthplace.
El Nino ocean temperature rises the past couple of years altered food sources for the local populations of marine mammals. Harbor seals and sea lions experienced the starving years in recent years as some local fish populations moved to colder waters and left the region with inadequate food for the local marine mammals. Two years ago, starving sea lion pups were commonly seen around these parts. The ocean temperature changes have also impacted Pacific harbor seal births.
Recent surveys indicate our local harbor seal population is in decline. In April 2014, I saw numerous seal pups on the beaches at Point Lobos State Park. Each year since the number of pups has declined.
My Monterey: April is seal pupping month, keep off their beaches (April 25, 2014).
Too cute harbor seal pups and sea otter pup turns 50 days old (April 18, 2015).
Last weekend, I hiked around Point Lobos and saw only a few seal pups on the beaches I checked along the North Shore Trail at Point Lobos State Park.
I enjoyed watching this seal pup, who loved being in the water. It seemed to me that mama simply wanted to lounge on the sandy beach at low tide. In a way many tired moms can relate, this pup was not interested in resting on the beach. He continually took off for a swim and mama was compelled to follow her pup back into the sea.
The only other harbor seal pup I observed on this Bluefish Cove beach was content to stay on the warm sand next to mom. This one might have been recently born, as it was still pretty wrinkly.
April is seal pup season around this part of California. This is one of my favorite times of year for walking around the coastline of the Monterey, California area.