Seals have been protected since 1972 by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, when they almost went extinct, hunted by fishermen who thought they were competing with them for fish. As Laura Walsh (Associated Press) says in her article
, only 5,800 harbor seals were counted in Maine in 1973.
Today, New Englanders call Maritime Aquarium officials to report that they have a seal in their backyard. It is believed that as many as 100,000 harbor seals can be found in New England waters. Some of them are even electing this area their new permanent home due to the increase of the seal population in Maine and Massachusetts waters. Traditionally, seals migrate south to New England waters from colder ones during the wintertime.
As a result of this growing number, a study is going to be conducted to see if these harbor seals have some genetic links with the ones found in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It will help to know a little more about these mammals as well, as so much still remains unknown. The commercial fishermen of Connecticut also think that this new knowledge is critical for them because they have seen the flounder population drop.
"If the research comes to show that we're never going to get a strong winter flounder stock because seals are knocking the population down to very low levels, then that would be nice to know. I wouldn't like the idea of it, but at least I would have something to say to these fishermen," said Eric Smith, director of the state's Department of Environmental Protection's Marine Fisheries Division.
Smith doesn't think that seals are in danger of being hunted again. Let's just hope he is right and that people will welcome the seals. As Smith added "The short take home message to people is that seals are a big part of our sea life now."