Spotting Seals on the Shores of New Jersey

I am guessing you did a double take on that headline, the same way I did when I was sent a photo of seals at Sandy Hook by Cassandra Dorn.  When you think of seals, you don’t generally follow with “New Jersey.”  But they are there.  Within easy sight of the city that never sleeps, a bob of seals basks in the sun on a jetty.  And apparently, seals have been wintering in New Jersey for a long time~ lifetime residents remember seeing them, but usually in ones and twos.  With the protections of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of the 1970’s, seal numbers have been growing since.  One person we were watching them with said they had been further south for a long time, but have recently taken up winter residence within a quick walk from a parking lot.

We’re lucky– on the day we were able to go, the tides were right, the wind was low, and the sun was shining: all optimum conditions for basking. The seals were milling around at first, getting ready to “haul out”.

More seals arrived, clumsily using those naked flippers to haul themselves out onto the rocks of a jetty. Harbor Seals, Phoca vitulina literally means sea dog or sea calf, because their whiskered snouts look a little like that of a dog. Seals are members of the Pinniped family, which means “flippered feet.”  The seals used these feet to pull themselves along on the rocks.  Once they were out of the water, they extended those back flippers up, I’m assuming for both balance and thermoregulation.

There was a ranger there, distributing this brochure and giving people some tips for keeping a respectful distance from the seals.  In this case, it was pretty easy: the seals were on a jetty that was well behind a fence so our actions really didn’t affect them at all.  And I was using both binoculars and a big zoom (at full distance) to even see the seals.

On a different rock, I spied a young, fuzzy seal off by himself.  Because these seals are social, the ranger wanted to be sure that the youngster wasn’t injured in some way.  We watched him eventually slip into the water in search of his friends back on the jetty behind.  That face!  Those whiskers! I was utterly transfixed.

After a while we meandered back to the jetty.  One of the safety rules we were adhering to was to limit our seal watching to 30 minutes.  I was shooting video for over half of that time: at the bottom of this post there is a video with most of the footage.

We left as the breeze picked up and the temperature neared 35.  Other visitors had some to photograph these local visitors, and we were delighted to spend a little time with them.  If you go, be sure to bring binocs and a zoom lens, and if your behavior seems to be affecting the seals, move on so they can rest.