Research Document - 2011/108
Living on the edge: Observations of Northwest Atlantic harp seals in 2010 and 2011
By G.B. Stenson and M.O. Hammill
The total extent of ice suitable for whelping harp seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and of the coast of southern Newfoundland conditions during 2010 and 2011 was at, or near, the lowest since 1969. Harp seals responded to these poor ice conditions by using unsuitable ice, moving to other areas, extending the whelping period and pupping outside of historical areas. There was no evidence to indicate that harp seals pupped on land even in areas where ice was absent. Young seals that did drift to shore had high levels of abandonment and mortality. The specific responses of whelping seals to poor ice conditions were influenced by the amount and timing of ice development in the different whelping areas. It is likely that mortality of young was high in both years, but likely greater in 2011 than 2010. An unusual mortality of adult seals occurred between December 2010 and April 2011. Although the exact cause of death could not be determined, it did not appear to be due to an outbreak of Phocine distemper or influenza.
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