SEAL ISLAND NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
SEAL ISLAND NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Matinicus, Maine 04851
Seal Island lies 21 miles off the coast of Rockland. This 65 acre island was transferred by the Navy to the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1972 and at one time was used as a bombing range. Today, Seal Island is managed in cooperation with National Audubon Society for colonial nesting seabirds, including, Arctic and common terns, eiders, guillemots, and Atlantic puffins. Through its Project Puffin, the National Audubon Society successfully reintroduced Atlantic puffins to the island by transporting chicks from Newfoundland, Canada. Puffins now nest on the island after a 150 year absence. Seal Island also has grown in to one of the Guld of Maine's largest tern colonies, supporting more than 2,200 pairs of Arctic and common terns.
Seal Island is closed year round to public access due to the presence of unexploded ordnance. For more information, contact Refuge Manager at (207)236-6970.
Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge is a remote, relatively inaccessible 65 acre island located 21 miles south of Rockland, Knox County, Maine. It is a treeless, rocky island with a maximum elevation of 65 feet. The U.S. Navy transferred Seal Island to the Service in 1972. The island had been used as a bombing target for the Navy from the 1940's to the early 1960's. The habitat on Seal Island consists of 35 acres of grasslands and 30 acres of rock ledge and boulders. This combination of habitats offers prime seabird nesting sites, with boulder fields and ledges providing nesting habitat for Atlantic puffins, razorbills, and black guillemots. Grass and ledge areas support terns, raspberry thickets provide cover for nesting common eider, and soft peat and glacial till soils provide habitat for burrow nesting Leach's storm petrels. The uncommon plant roseroot stonecrop (Sedum rosea) is exceptionally abundant on Seal Island, making it one of the most significant southern stations of this species in the eastern United States The Service, in conjunction with National Audubon Society, used a variety of gull control measures and social attraction techniques to re-establish Seal Island as an Atlantic puffin and tern nesting island. Today the island remains one of the most important colonial seabird nesting islands in the Gulf of Maine. Recent survey information indicates the island supports over 230 pairs of Atlantic puffins and greater than 2,200 pairs of common and Arctic terns. In recent years, small numbers of endangered roseate terns have also nested on the island. Razorbills also recently initiated nesting on Seal Island, a major step in their recovery given they only nest on five other islands in Maine. In addition, Seal Island is only one of 10 islands in Maine that host nesting great cormorants. The Service continues working with National Audubon Society in an effort to monitor the status of the nesting seabirds, their productivity rates, and diet composition. The surrounding waters provide an abundance of herring and hake, the primary prey species for most of the seabirds nesting on the islands. The island is also an important stopover point for migrating songbirds, shorebirds and raptors. In 2000, Seal Island was recognized as the largest gray seal pupping island in Maine. Harbor and gray seals are common on adjacent ledges and in surrounding waters throughout the year.
Seal Island was once the site of the largest Atlantic puffin colony in the Gulf of Maine. For over 200 years it was also a summer campsite for fishermen harvesting herring, ground fish, and lobster. The fishermen also used their nets to harvest the nesting seabirds for meat, eggs, and feathers, which eventually lead to the demise of the colony by 1887.
Throughout the middle portion of this century, the island was owned by the U.S. Navy, and was used as a bombing target from the 1940's to the early 1960's. The effects of the bombing and shelling can still be seen on the island. Small craters and scarred granite are abundant, but the rank growth of grasses and raspberry has concealed most of the damage. Even the effects of the 1978 peat fire are fading beneath a quickly growing peat layer. The Navy transferred the island to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1972, and is now managed as part of Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Once federal legislation passed in the early 1900's prohibited the continued take of migratory birds, the island was re-colonized by herring and great black-backed gulls, common eiders, double-crested cormorants, and terns. Similar to many of the other islands in the Gulf of Maine, the aggressive and predatory gulls eventually eliminated all nesting terns by 1953. In 1984, the National Audubon Society (NAS) in cooperation with the USFWS and the Canadian Wildlife Service began a tern and puffin restoration project on Seal Island. After six years of gull control and tern attraction using decoys and tape recordings, 20 pairs of Artic and Common terns nested on the island in 1989. The colony has increased dramatically since that time, with over 1,000 pairs of Artic terns and over 1,200 pairs of Common terns nesting in 2003. In recent years, a single pair of endangered roseate terns has also nested on the island. Between 1984 & 1989, NAS brought 950 puffin chicks from Newfoundland to Seal Island. Researchers raised the puffin chicks in burrows and watched as the chicks fledged and went to sea where they would spend at least the next five years maturing to adulthood. The tremendous effort proved successful, and after more than a 100 year absence, puffins successfully bred on Seal Island in 1992. The puffin colony has continued to grow and in 2003 the island supported over 230 pairs. The island continues to be cooperatively managed by National Audubon Society and the Service.