- Associated Press - Friday, July 11, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - A visitor from the north made an unexpected appearance in Prince William Sound this week.

Federal wildlife technicians conducting a seabird and marine mammal survey spotted and photographed a ribbon seal, which are normally seen in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

Marty Reedy was driving a boat for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey when a colleague pointed out a seal, APRN (https://bit.ly/1r3au0V) reported.

Reedy has also worked in northern waters and recognized the ribbon seal.

“I just could not believe my eyes,” he said. “I kept thinking to myself, I must be seeing something wrong, but if you look at a picture of these guys, there’s no doubt what it was. We see a lot of wonderful stuff out in the sound but to see something like that, is pretty unique and special.”

Reedy maneuvered the boat closer and photographed the male ribbon seal on glacial ice in the northwest section of the sound.

Ribbon seals are named for their patterns of black and white fur that gives them the coloration of a panda bear.

During summer and fall, ribbon seals live entirely in water and forage on fish, squid and crustaceans. From March through June, the seals rely on pack ice for reproduction and molting.

Ribbon seals give birth and nurse pups, which can’t swim, exclusively on sea ice. Like ringed seals, newborn ribbon seals have a coat of lanugo and cannot survive submersion in icy water until after they’ve formed the blubber layer.

Peter Boveng, a seal expert with the National Marine Mammal Lab in Seattle, said ribbon seals spend winters in the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. In summer, he said, individual roamers have been spotted as far south as British Colombia and Washington.

A ribbon seal in Prince William Sound on the fringes of its summer range did not surprise him.

“They go into a pelagic phase where essentially they’re in the water all the time,” he said. “They seem to be mostly solitary. So people don’t see ribbon seals really anywhere this time of year with any frequency or commonness.”

A ribbon seal in 2007 was spotted outside Anchorage in Cook Inlet.

If the seal is healthy, Boveng said, it should find his way back to the Bering Sea for winter breeding.

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