Harbor Seals in Drakes Estero

NPS Assertion: Oyster farm causes harm to and/or disturbs harbor seals

In its report entitled “Drakes Estero: A Sheltered Wilderness Estuary,” the Park Service published a number of false claims, including the incorrect information that the oyster farm has disturbed seals, and the preposterous accusation that this resulted in an 80% decline in the seal population.

The Park Service has no evidence for these claims, most of which have been quietly retracted, yet the basic narrative of disturbance to seals remains part of its playbook.

DBOC Assertion: Oyster farming does not disturb, much less harm, seals in Drakes Estero

Data collected by the Park Service in 2013 shows that the harbor seal population in Drakes Estero is thriving.

An investigation by the Marine Mammal Commission showed that the Harbor seals in Drakes Estero are so healthy that the estero is fast reaching its carrying capacity. Although the executive summary of the report indicates that the NPS Becker paper seems to indicate a correlation between oyster farming and a decline in harbor seal population, none of the marine-mammal scientists who studied the issue for the Commission agree with that conclusion. Read their reports here.

In May 2007, NPS secretly installed cameras focused on key harbor seal haul-out area and DBOC oyster bag area to gather data on whether oyster boats and workers were disturbing harbor seals. The cameras took photos once per minute, every day from 7am to 7pm during seal pupping season. 281,000 photos were taken from 05/05/07 TO 06/10/2010.

The covert camera operation shows no harm to harbor seals. That data was altered by the Park Service in its Final Environmental Impact Statement in an attempt to bolster that document’s false claims that the oyster farm has a negative impact on seals and that removing the oyster farm would have a positive impact on seals. A scientific misconduct complaint about that data alteration was submitted and has not been responded to.

UPDATE: On January 18, 2015, Newsweek reported that data falsification in this blockbuster story, which puts scientist Brent Stewart on the record:

“Stewart discovered that his findings had been altered and that the study reached conclusions his research directly contradicted. ‘It’s clear that what I provided to them and what they produced were different conclusions and different values,’ says Stewart. ‘In science, you shouldn’t do that.’ “