Good Morning Gloucester reader Pat Morss shares photos of baby Harp Seals from a trip to the Arctic. Pat writes to GMG’s editor-in-chief Joey Ciaramitaro:
We read with interest Kim Smith’s posting of the visiting Harp Seal on Good Morning Gloucester, Saturday evening. Anne-Lise and I had the good fortune of visiting the southernmost breeding area on her map, the pack ice in the outer Gulf of St. Lawrence. The birthing to weaning period is just 3 weeks annually at the end of February and beginning of March. We flew out by helicopter from Les Iles de la Madeleine, and – yes – we followed the strict instructions of our naturalist. We topped off the experience with some dogsledding to wind down.
Best, Pat Morss
WHAT A MAGNIFICENT GIFT TO SEE AND TO SHARE. THANK YOU SO MUCH PAT!
Very late in the afternoon, just as the sun was setting, the juvenile Harp Seal attempted to head back to sea. He began to scooch and wriggle toward the creek, pausing often to scratch and roll around in the sand. At one point he reversed direction and started back toward the dunes.
As you can see in the last photo of the above gallery that just as do Harbor Seals, Harp Seals have a tail, too.
After a few more false starts he made his way to the water. Before sliding in, he paused at the water’s edge to drink.
Nearly dead low tide, the water was not deep enough to swim. It was painful to watch him splash and undulate along on his belly in the shallows. He seemed to tire quickly and was very undecided about what to do next. We watched as the young seal made his way slowly around a sharp bend in the creek, then held our breaths as he made it all the way to the foot bridge.
But then he suddenly stopped, turned around, and swam back down the creek, nearly the whole length of the creek from where he had come. The young seal seemed confused and it was heartbreaking to see. When I left at sundown he was on the flats in the creek.
Good Harbor Beach resident and Piping Plover monitor Sue W. reports that he is still there at 7:15. We’re hoping he makes it out at low tide, which is at 10:11 tonight.
The young Harp Seal appeared very tired when I left the beach at around 5:30.
Many, many thanks to Jane Goodwin, neighbor and Good Morning Gloucester reader, for alerting us to the Harp Seal.
For turtle, seal, and all mammal strandings, please call NOAA at 866.755.6622. Thank you!
Update to the Update
I checked on the little guy at 5:30 this morning on my way out of town to photograph and didn’t see any sign of him, but it was pitch black. I checked again on my way home, around 11am, still no sign, and there did not appear to be any signs of a skirmish with a coyote. The tide was high and the water was up to the top of the creek bed. It would have been much easier for him to slip into the water last night and head back out to sea.
In response to Facebook comments that the location of the seal should not have been posted publicly: The initial post was shared in the evening, after dark, and would not have been posted if people had not been behaving thoughtfully and kindly toward the seal. I believe it is important for adults and children to share the shore with wildlife, to love and respect a wild creature’s boundaries, not hide the whereabouts of the animal. There are exceptions in the case of at risk endangered and threatened species. ❤
A beautiful young Harp Seal spent the better part of the day hauled out between the bank of the Good Harbor Beach creek and the dunes. The seal appeared in good health and was seen resting, stretching, scooching, and sunning. Beach walkers and dog walkers were respectful and kept a safe distance.
Ainsley Smith from NOAA was on the job letting folks know that the seal was okay and that this is perfectly normal seal behavior. Thanks so much to Ainsley and to all the beachgoers today who kept their distance from the Harp Seal. For turtle, seal, and all mammal strandings, please call NOAA at 866.755.6622. Thank you!
I’ve been checking on him periodically throughout the afternoon and will let you know when he makes it back to the water. I hope soon because we know coyotes scavenge the beach at night.
Harp Seals are born in the Arctic during the late winter. They are born with a lanugo, an extra thick fluffy white coat that keeps them warm on the Arctic ice. During each stage of development, the Harp Seal’s coat has a different appearance. Juveniles have a white coat with widely spaced spots. Every year, the spots move closer together during molting. By the time the Harp Seal reaches adulthood, the coat is silvery gray with a black saddle mark on the back and a black face. See the photo below of a baby and Mom Harp Seal.
A mother harp seal and her pup rest in their icy habitat.