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    Ribbon Seals hauling out on Beringwatch


    Ribbon seal photographed by Akutan Sentinel Mike Witsoe on August 14 and 15 at Surf Beach on Akun Island.

    Island Sentinels in the Pribilof and Aleutian Islands have recorded two recent sightings of ribbon seals (Iglagayan in Unangam Tunuu or Aleut) in the Beringwatch database. Akutan Sentinel Mike Witsoe on August 14 and 15 recorded the first sightings at Surf Beach on Akun Island. A few days later, on August 20, St. Paul Sentinel Paul Melovidov observed a ribbon seal resting on the sand bar at the southern end of the Salt Lagoon. The last recorded observation in the Beringwatch database on St. Paul Island was on September 21, 2014 when Esther Baldwin videotaped a ribbon seal on North Beach (link to video). Going way back in time and local knowledge, John W. Melovidov spotted a ribbon seal in September 1988 between the two west landing docks. If anyone has any more observations of ribbon seals please let us know!

    Ribbon seal observed on August 20 by St. Paul Sentinel Paul Melovidov on the sand bar at the southern end of the Salt Lagoon.

    Ribbon seal observed on August 20 by St. Paul Sentinel Paul Melovidov on the sand bar at the southern end of the Salt Lagoon.

    If you’ve never seen a ribbon seal, it is not surprising because they rarely haul out on land. During summer and fall when the sea ice recedes northward out of the Bering Sea ribbon seals spend their time at sea. When the ice returns during winter and spring they haul out on broken ice floes to molt, breed and rear their pups. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) range map below shows that the Pribilofs are at the edge of the breeding distribution for the Bering Sea, while the Aleutians are at the southern margin of the known extent. However ribbon seals have been recorded in other parts of Alaska as far as Anchorage and Southeast Alaska. In January 2012 a wandering adult male was even seen multiple times in Puget Sound, WA. If you are lucky enough to see a ribbon seal you’ll probably know it right away because they are hard to miss. They have distinctive light-colored bands or “ribbons” around their neck, foreflipper, and hips that become more striking as they reach adulthood, especially in males.


    The approximate geographic distribution of ribbon seals, based on documented observations and satellite telemetry (Image from Boveng et al. 2013).

    There are thought to be between 200,000 to 300,000 ribbon seals across their range, with an estimated 61,000 in the eastern and central Bering Sea. Ribbon seals are a species of concern among the Arctic ice seals, but are not currently listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In the Bering Sea, loss of sea ice for breeding, and reduced prey from effects of ocean acidification were considered the greatest future threats to ribbon seal habitat in the 2013 NMFS Status Review. Ribbon seals are hunted for subsistence in Siberia and Alaska and the current annual take by Alaska Natives is estimated to be less than 200 seals per year.

    So keep an eye out for ribbon seals and other observations of interest on the islands and please report them to the local Sentinels so we can record them in the Beringwatch database. And as you can see from the post and links, photos and video are great! If you are interested in trying out our new Beringwatch App for recording observations on your smartphone or iPad, let us know and we’ll get you set up.



    Boveng, P. L., J. L. Bengtson, M. F. Cameron, S. P. Dahle, E. A. Logerwell, J. M. London, J. E. Overland, J. T. Sterling, D. E. Stevenson, B. L. Taylor, and H. L. Ziel. 2013. Status review of the ribbon seal. U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFSAFSC-255, 174 p.

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