Common Misconceptions of Grey Seals

Gray Seals are an invasive species in New England

False. Historically, Grey seals have been abundant across the Atlantic seaboard of North America, from Southern Labrador down to New England, and occasionally as far south as North Carolina and Virginia. This common misconception probably originated because of the recent increase in the gray seal population around Cape Cod, after being virtually extirpated in the region for generations. Up until 1962, Maine and Massachusetts had bounties on gray seals, keeping the population in the region dangerously close to extinction. After the passing of the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, grey seal populations have began to recover and recolonize much of their historical habitat, including Cape Cod.

Grey Seals are the reason why cod stocks are not recovering

False. There has been no concrete connection between the rise in grey seal population and theIMG_7840 continued decimation of the Atlantic cod stock. Cod form a minority part of grey seal diets in the area, and it is far too presumptuous to assume that predation by grey seals is the major reason for the decimation in cod stock. Ecosystems are dynamic and complex, and more research on the relationship between seal and cod populations are needed. Mismanagement of the Atlantic cod stock continues to be the major reason for the lack of recovery in the stock in recent years. Actions taken by the commercial fishing industry such as postponing reduction in catch limits against scientific advice, which happened in the winter of 2011-2012, will continue to be the main threat to the Atlantic Cod stock.

Grey seals are a nuisance and don’t bring any benefits to the local communities of Cape Cod

False. The resurgence of grey seals in the region has brought plenty of benefits and economic opportunities. Tourists have flocked to the region to see gray seals in their natural habitat, which has led to the start of a “seal watching” industry. There are now several operators running tours to see the seals out of Chatham harbor. The increase of gray seals, and additionally, the return of Great White Sharks to the area, presents new opportunities for small businesses and eco-tourism. The presence of these animals’ demonstrates how the ecosystem of that region has started to return to a healthy, natural state. This can only mean good things for the future of Cape Cod, and hopefully a return to healthy fish stocks in the area.