See wild horses and gray seals mingle on Sable Island

Scientists are studying how iron levels affect seal pup’s dive capacity–and their survival rates.
Eight gray seals and four wild horses stand on a sandy beach.
Gray seals and Sable Island's wild horses spending time on the beach. Michelle Shero/ ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Every winter, about 500,000 gray seals gather on a remote sandbar called Sable Island. Located 200 miles off the coast of Nova Scotia, the seals gather here to rest, molt, give birth to their pups, and breed. While they don’t face many predators on the island, they do mingle with some wild horses that have roamed free on the island for years

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) marine biologist Michelle Shero and colleagues are currently spending several weeks studying these pinnipeds. They are studying how much iron the mother seals get in their diets and how that impacts the pup’s diving capacity and survival rates. The population of gray seals on Sable Island has exploded in recent decades, but roughly 90 percent of pups die during their first year. The team believes that it is because of an increased competition for food. 

Check out some pictures of the work below:

Sable Island horses graze by the shore at sunset. CREDIT: Michelle Shero/ ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
The view from the researchers ATV while doing population monitoring around the island. CREDIT: Michelle Shero/ ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Seals and horses co-exist on the shores of Sable Island. In the background is the old lightkeepers house that the research team lives in. CREDIT: Michelle Shero/ ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Horses and gray seals lounge on one of Sable Island’s sandy areas. CREDIT: Michelle Shero/ ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
WHOI Marine Biologist Michelle Shero about to collect health information on a gray seal pup, when some inquisitive equine spectators began to watch. CREDIT: Michelle Rivard.

Shero is working with the Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and her research is funded by the National Science Foundation in partnership with Texas Tech University and the University of Alaska.