Seal Island

Seal Island*

*Text taken from the online “Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement” dated April 2004, of the Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

This 65-acre island is located in Vinalhaven, Knox County. The U.S. Navy transferred Seal Island to the Service in 1972. The island was used as a bombing target for the Navy from the 1940’s to the early 1960’s.

Puffins CourtshipThe habitat on Seal Island consists of 35 acres of grasslands and 30 acres of rock ledge. This combination of habitats offers prime seabird nesting sites, with boulder fields and ledges for Atlantic puffins, razorbills, and black guillemots, grass and ledge areas for terns, raspberry thickets for eiders, and soft peat and glacial till soils for Leach’s storm-petrels. A vegetation study was conducted in 1985 by Rappaport and Wesley.

Seal Island was once home to the largest Atlantic puffin colony in the Gulf of Maine. For over 200 years it was also a summer campsite for fisherman harvesting herring, groundfish, and lobster. The fishermen also used their nets to harvest the nesting seabirds, which led to the demise of the colony by 1887. The island was eventually recolonized by cormorants, gulls, and terns. However, by 1953 the growing gull population had completely displaced all nesting terns.

In 1984, the National Audubon Society, Canadian Wildlife Service and the Refuge began a seabird restoration project on the island. In an effort to re-establish Seal Island as an Atlantic puffin breeding colony, NAS translocated puffin chicks from Newfoundland between 1984- 1989. The effort proved highly successful, and for the first time in nearly 100 years, puffins successfully bred on Seal Island in 1992. The puffin colony has continued to grow and in 2002 the island supported 181 pairs of puffins and one pair of razorbills.

Razorbill in flightOnly four other islands support nesting razorbills in the state, so we are hopeful that additional razorbills will initiate nesting on Seal Island. In conjunction with the puffin restoration efforts, social attraction equipment (sound system and decoys) was utilized to attract terns to the island. After six years of effort, 20 pairs of Arctic and common terns nested on the island in 1989. The colony has increased dramatically since that time, with 1,057 pairs of Arctic terns and 1,582 pairs of common terns nesting in 2002. Seal Island is now home to the largest tern colony in Maine.

Leach’s storm-petrel, black guillemot, common eider, great cormorant, great black-backed and herring gulls also nest on the island. The island is also only one of ten islands in Maine that hosts nesting great cormorants. Small numbers of roseate terns have also nested on the island in recent years.

We continue to work cooperatively with National Audubon Society on the Seal Island seabird restoration project. Biological technicians staff the island, conduct biological surveys (food and productivity studies), annually census the island, control predators, and band seabirds. Researchers are currently supporting Arctic tern and Atlantic puffin research projects in cooperation with the University of New Brunswick. Annual survey and study results are available upon request at Refuge Complex Headquarters. Table 3-21 presents the nesting seabirds known on the island.

In 2000, Seal Island was recognized as the largest gray seal pupping island in Maine. In 1999, winter flights were conducted to count seals, and they estimated 400 adults and 150-200 pups were on the island (Gilbert, Univ of Maine, 1999). The island is also used by harbor seals as a pupping island.

Raptor surveys were conducted in 1997 and 1998 (Drury 1997, and Drury and Goodhue 1998). The island is considered an important foraging area for migrating peregrine falcons and other raptors.

The island is closed to public access year round due to the presence of unexploded ordnance. Information signs alerting visitors to the closure are in place.