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June 12, 2013

Seal-tagging project launched

CHATHAM (AP) — Scientists plan to tag seven adult gray seals on Cape Cod this week as part of an effort to learn more about the species.

Gordon Waring, the National Marine Fisheries Service seal expert and chief scientist for the project, says the first-of-a-kind program in Atlantic waters will help scientists answer questions they share with local residents and fishermen alike. They aim to tag the seals today through Friday off Chatham and Wellfleet.

“We hope it will give us a better understanding of the ecology of gray seals in the Cape Cod area,” Waring told the Cape Cod Times.

Waring hopes the tagging data will reveal where adult seals go when they leave the beach, how deep they dive, what they feed on and whether they are shuttling back and forth between the large Canadian seal colonies off Nova Scotia or north in the St. Lawrence River.

The tags, at a cost of $5,000 each, will record water temperature, depth and location. Unlike satellite tags, which download their information to orbiting satellites, these devices connect to cell towers when the seal rests on a beach.

The state’s gray seal population, based largely on Cape Cod, has exploded to an estimated 15,000. The seals are blamed for eating commercially valuable fish species and attracting sharks to Cape Cod waters.

The cellphone tags are usually placed on the back of the animal with glue. They are about the size and heft of an iPhone with a D battery attached, said David Johnston, a seal researcher from Duke University who is supplying most of the tags that will be used this week.

Within a year, the tags fall off when the seal goes through its annual molt.

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