Where Did the Seals Go?

Imagine that you are headed out for a seal watch aboard the R/V Envirolab.  You are excited - when your friend went out on

the same trip last week, she saw more than 200 seals!  But on your trip, you see only about 20. What could have happened?

We know the seals are around here somewhere.  From the deck of Project Oceanology’s Envirolab, we often see hundreds of them ‘hauled out’ on the rocks of Fishers Island Sound!  On other days, however, we only see a few. In this online activity, you will use your scientific skills to help us figure out why we see more seals on some days compared to other days.  In order to complete this activity you will need some pieces of paper, and something to write with.

A Little Bit of Background:

Every year, harbor seals migrate into Long Island Sound to spend the winter.  These fascinating animals are mammals (like us!). This means they have to keep their bodies at a constant (warm) temperature, they breathe air, they have hair or fur, they give live birth, and they feed their babies with milk.  But unlike most mammals, they have to do all of these things while spending most of their time in the water.

Visit NOAA’s website on harbor seals to learn more about these fascinating marine mammals here.

Step 1: Watch the Video

Watch the video of seals and write answers to the two questions below on your sheet of paper.

Question 1: Where did you see seals in the video?  Were they on the rocks, in the water, or both? Where did you see the most seals?

Question 2: Why do you think seals ‘haul out’ on the rocks?  

Step 2: Choose a Research Question

How do you think seals are affected by their environment?  For more than twenty years, student scientists at Project Oceanology have been investigating this question by collecting data on seals and their environment.  Today, you will take a look at our data and use it to help us understand seal behavior.

First take our Google Earth virtual tour of the seal habitat in Fishers Island Sound!  Think about what conditions might be like for seals as they are hauled out vs. in the water, and what kind of factors you think might influence their behavior.

Second, select a specific research question that interests you (or, find the research question that was assigned to you by your teacher). Click the link for the appropriate level (basic or advanced), and follow the instructions to start your investigation!  ‘Advanced’ projects are most appropriate for students with some prior experience at making graphs and analyzing data.

Research Questions: Basic

  1. How does the tide affect the number of seals observed? - Link

  2. How does location affect the number of seals observed? - Link

  3. How does air temperature affect the number of seals observed? - Link

  4. How does water temperature affect the number of seals observed? - Link

  5. How does wind speed affect the number of seals observed? - Link

  6. How does weather affect the number of seals observed? - Link

  7. How does Beaufort Scale affect the number of seals observed? - Link

  8. How does the seal population in Fishers Island Sound change over the course of a year? - Link

  9. How has the seal population in Fishers Island Sound changed over time? - Link

Research Questions: Advanced

  1. How do air and water temperatures affect the seal counts in Fishers Island Sound over the course of a year? - Link

  2. How do tide and location affect the number of seals observed? - Link

  3. How do air temperature and water temperature interact to affect the number of seals observed? - Link

  4. How has the seal population in Fishers Island Sound changed over the years at different locations? - Link

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1084 Shennecossett Rd. Groton, CT 06340

860.445.9007 | projecto@oceanology.org