Cape Cod May Cull Seals If Fishermen Get Their Wish

Some people in Cape Cod, Massachusetts would like to cull the gray seal populations.

The New York Times published a report Friday on the exploding population of the gray seals. The Marine Mammal Protection Act banned seal hunting in 1972.

At that time, the gray seal was close to extinction in US waters. But the federal protection allowed them to return. There were over 2,000 in Cape Cod by 1994. And there were almost 16,000 by 2011.

Some businesses like seal-watching tours have profited. But professional fishermen are getting slammed by the competition from seals, who frighten away or consume the already-challenged populations of edible fish.

The issue may be now demanding national attention because of the NYT. But there has been talk of a possible cull of the Cape Cod seals in local media all summer.

Boston Magazine posted an indepth look at the issue in July.

The heart of the problem is that there are now an estimated 16,000 gray seals in the area. Greg Early, a marine biologist and seal researcher, put the question in simple terms: “How much of a good thing is too much?”

With no hunt and no predators, the seal population could grow at an estimated 20 percent a year — which could devastate an already-struggling fishing industry.

But it gets worse. Gray seals do have a predator — the great white shark. And the sharks are appearing more frequently in the Cape Cod area, probably to feast at the seal buffet.

Cape Cod Cull Seals
grey seal file photo

Here’s some typical video footage of the gray seals hanging out on a sandbar at Cape Cod:

Here’s a 2012 video from the Cape Cod Times of a tagged great white shark grabbing and eating a gray seal:

“This is great evidence that the great white sharks are here for the seals,” said a shark expert quoted in a voice-over to the amazing footage.

However, sharks don’t have great vision. And a lot of people believe that the sharks are coming for the seals but then accidentally chomping into human beings as well — fueling a rise in shark attacks.

For now it’s mostly working fishermen calling for a cull of the Cape Cod seals. But if they lose a swimmer or two, tourist officials may join the call.

[begging gray seal photo credit: CharlesFred via photopin cc]
[seal mother and pup top photo credit: nutmeg66 via photopin cc]