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Field Research: Gray Seal Pup Assessments – Part 1

Launch day! After a delay due to high winds, we were able to gather and launch from Chatham pier heading to Monomoy Island for gray seal pup health assessments headed up by Wendy Puryear at Tufts University.  A highly collaborative study, this work aims to understand more about the health of local gray seal populations and the dynamics of influenza (the flu!) in these animals, which is also an important consideration for domestic animal and human health! After not being able to go in 2019, I am excited to get back in the field! This year, Allie Bruscato from our Pacific Northwest team and Jessica Cebelius from our Animal Rescue Program are joining the effort as well. With high winds and winter storms threatening to move back in the area towards the end of the week, we hit the ground running to maximize our time.

Jessica Laura Allie

Ready to go! Jessica, Laura and Allie (From left to Right)

With winds at 1-2 mph, it was the smoothest and fastest trip out to the island that I have ever experienced. It also made for an easy entrance to the island as we didn’t have to battle big waves while unloading onto the beach. First step was to bring all our gear, food and laboratory supplies to the lighthouse, which was no easy task as we made the one-mile trek. We had heard about renovations at the lighthouse, but I was delighted by the amazing upgrades since the last time I was there! There are walls, a gas stove and electricity! What used to be the ‘kitchen’ was now a large space which we set up as our lab.


Lab conditions in 2020 (left) vs. 2017 (right)… there are solid walls, windows and electricity! We even have an actual table to work on instead of a work shelf and the floor.

At about 1pm, while prepping to sample pups for the afternoon, I realized my  protective grundens and rain coat had accidentally been left on one of the boats! Thankfully,  Sarah from the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center loaned me an extra pair she had brought along (Thank you Sarah!).   No rain was in the forecast, but without this protective layer, my ability to work directly with the animals during sampling would have been greatly reduced. With a lot of first time participants, we started out as one sampling group, going over each of the roles, rules and safety. Eventually we broke into two groups and ended the short afternoon after sampling six animals.

Lighthouse Monomoy

Preparing to head out and sample some seals!

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