Seal Island NWR

The Island is home to a restored seabird colony of puffins, razorbill and terns.

Location and Description: Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is a 65-acre offshore island located in outer Penobscot Bay, 22 miles southeast of Rockland, Knox County. The island is about one mile long and about 100 to 300 yards wide. Spectacular sea cliffs dominate the southeastern side of the island, while the northwest side slopes from several high points to an inter-tidal zone with two distinct coves (the eastern and western bights) which both have rock/ pebble beaches. The exposed high terrain is characterized by granite with sparse, low-growing vegetation, while the protected drainages, open meadows, some NW facing slopes and the beach habitat support a rich assemblage of annuals and perennials with few shrubs and no trees. Seal Island NWR is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Maine Coastal Islands NWR (MCINWR) and is cooperatively managed by the National Audubon Society and MCINWR.

Human, Seabird, and Restoration History: The Island is home to a restored seabird colony of puffins, razorbills and terns. Restoration began in 1984 with gull management, the translocation of nearly 1,000 young puffins from Newfoundland and social attraction for puffins and terns (using decoys and mirror boxes). Like many Maine coast seabird colonies, Seal Island NWR's seabird populations were diminished and eventually extirpated by a combination of egging, hunting for meat and feathers and displacement by expanding Herring and Great Black-backed Gull populations. Prior to the initiation of restoration activities, puffins last nested in ~1887 and terns last nested in 1936. After restoration, puffins began nesting in 1992 and by 2012 more than 500 pairs were nesting. The first terns nested in 1989 and today the colony supports more than 2,500 pairs of Arctic and Common Terns - one of Maine's largest tern colonies. The island also has a long human history; it has been used as a fishing camp/outpost, and from the early 1940's until 1966, the U.S. Navy used the island as a bombing range. The island was transferred to the Department of the Interior in 1972 and it later became part of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

Access: The island is closed to public visitation. Staff transportation to the island is typically provided by charter or by MCINWR staff. MCINWR staff depart from Rockland, while the charter departs from Vinalhaven (a 1 hr 15 min ferry ride from Rockland). The trip to Seal Island takes approximately 45 min -1 ½ hrs depending on departure point, weather and sea conditions. All food, gear, water and personal equipment are rowed ashore in a dory or small inflatable rowboat (stored on the island).  The landing is generally straightforward, but can be very slippery at low tide with numerous bowling ball sized (and larger) cobbles covered with slippery algae. High tide is generally the preferred time to land. Island staff and volunteers are responsible for securing supplies and groceries before heading to the island.

Island Living and Accommodations: During the field season, 5-7 people live and work on the island. The Seal Island 12'x12 ft cabin serves as the kitchen, "dining room" and office. Tent platforms are provided for personal tents. The kitchen has a propane stove and small refrigerator. There is an outdoor solar shower and a composting toilet. A solar electrical system powers research needs such as a laptop computer and communication systems.

Nesting and Migratory Birds: Seal Island NWR supports a diverse seabird colony with nesting Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Black Guillemots, Leach's Storm-petrels, Arctic, Common and occasionally Roseate Terns, Common Eiders, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, and Double-crested and Great Cormorants. Common Murres are also present, though not breeding on the island. Spring and fall migration can be outstanding; 224 species (including breeding birds) have been recorded on the island since 2000, including several Maine rarities such as Yellow-nosed Albatross, Red-billed Tropicbird, Ash-throated Flycatcher and Prothonotary Warbler.

Island Monitoring, Research and Management Projects: The Seal Island NWR field season begins in mid May and continues through mid August. The Island Supervisor is responsible for coordinating the timing of specific projects throughout the field season. Work includes, but is not limited to, the following projects; annual tern, eider, and gull census; tern band resighting, chick provisioning, productivity and chick growth studies; razorbill and puffin census, productivity, banding, band resighting and provisioning studies; black guillemot productivity and chick growth; daily weather and bird lists; and gull management. Public interaction may include restricting visitor access to the seabird colony.

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