Sunday, February 28, 2016

Seal of Approval: Riverhead Foundation Seal Cruise!

     This Saturday I took my parents and my husband on a seal watching trip in Hempstead Harbor in Nassau County, NY. This is something that involves: 1. Being on a boat, 2. Being outside in winter, and 3. two hours of your time. My mom, I could see her doing this, she is fairly adventurous-- My dad, well, I tried to really just pitch this trip to him in the most positive light possible.
     When it comes to my father, he is, as he would say--"fascinating!" I know he is going to read this, because he is my father and always looks at and shares with his friends, these posts and the pictures I take. So to really make this trip worth his while, I told him that if he comes and pretends to have fun that I will golf with him, 9 holes, with him and my husband. I now barter with my dad and use golf and my husband as currency.
     Go figure... the weather was great, the waters were calm, we saw lots of seals, and dad had fun-- not pretend fun, real fun. I still owe him 9 holes of golf... don't worry dad, I plan to bring my binoculars to not only help me find my ball-- but also some birdies (not the golf kind). It was a super great day with the family and I was so happy to share the experience with them! I'm really lucky to have such great parents who will try new things with me- they are pretty fantastic people.

Some Handsome Great Black-Backed gulls watched as we just barely passed below the Meadowbrook Parkway.
Aside from these gorgeous gulls, we also saw common loons, long-tailed ducks, greebe sp., brant, canadas geese, and a peregrine falcon.
Rear flippers as a seal dives underwater...
A group of harbor seals hauled out, resting on the marsh in the harbor.
Harbor seals come here in the winter and spend the summer up North in places like Maine where they birth their pups.
Harbor Seals have a very puppy dog-like face. On land, when dry, their short fur appears fuzzy- when they are wet, they appear slick and hairless. These are marine mammals, and like mammals they are covered in fur, are warm blooded, and feed their young with milk produced by the female.
The boat kept its distance from the group and crew instructed us on board to remain quiet so as to not spook the group. It is important to remember that seals and other marine mammals are protected with strict laws and you need to maintain very specific distances, 50 yards to be exact as per the NOAA guidelines for viewing marine life.
Despite their absolute cuteness, it is important to remember these are wild seals- approaching these animals and disregarding regulations can result in a hefty fines and injury as wild animals will protect themselves. Please always remember to be respectful of wildlife.

In these waters these seals are feeding on the fish to help maintain that layer of blubber that insulates them well and helps to keep these animals warm despite cold temperature sin the water and air.
The group was hauled out next to a large group of gulls that out of nowhere flew up all at once, catching the attention and alarm of the seals as they all stretch their necks to look out at the commotion.
The flight of the flock resulted in all seals fleeing into the water...
Take note of the second seal from the left-- sporting a neck injury.
Injuries like this are signature of entanglement in monofilament lines that are not disposed on properly- they can get caught up, cut into the skin and cause painful lesions that can become infected and severely put the seal at risk. It is so important to be smart about trash, making sure it goes to the right place where it will not end up in places where it can harm wildlife.
Seals are pinnipeds- this group of mammals includes true seas (like this guy), eared seals (like fur seals and sea lions), and walruses. Marine mammals is not an actual taxonomic group, but its a term used to describe a few groups including all pinnipeds, all cetaceans, all sirenians (manatees/dugongs), one mustelid (the sea otter), and one ursine (the polar bear).
Unlike the sea lions we see at zoos and aquariums, harbor seals are true seals. They have small front flippers, so they cannot stand on them or propel themselves forward with them in water. They use their powerful rear flipper to help them move through the water, basically wiggling their hips to swim. 
True seals also have small openings for their ears- as you can see. Sea lions have ear flaps, and are pinnipeds known as "eared seals." 

These seal cruises are operated with folks from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research & Preservation on board, I highly recommend the cruises. Your small fee of $26 per person helps support their rescue & rehabilitation efforts. They are the only marine mammal and sea turtle rescue for NY State. I used to intern in their hospital and I have to say, they run a great place with only THE very best intentions for every animal that comes into their care. I highly suggest a tour and also to learn more about them and supporting them in any way that you can!