Although this may look like a pig pile from shore, Harbor Seals actually like to maintain a bit of social distancing while they are lolling.
Letting the younger seal know in no uncertain terms, in the above photo, you can see an older seal fwapping the smaller seal away with his flipper (he/she was also grunting at the youngster).Harbor Seal Pig Pile
Monday, Charlotte and I came across a baby Harbor Seal hauled out in the seaweed at Eastern Point. I was distracted photographing a large Gray Seal that was swimming along the shoreline when Charlotte chortled, look at the baby seal, look at the baby seal! I said honey, that’s not a baby, it’s an adult. She kept talking about a baby, even after the adult had submerged. After what have must seemed like forever to Charlotte, I saw the pup, too, half buried in the seaweed. My little eagle-eyed companion!
The seaweed is piled high and seems unusually extra thick. Walking on it feels as though you are stepping on puffy clouds. The poor pup looked exhausted and perhaps the drying seaweed provided a comfortable place to gain its bearings.
We waited a bit to try to ascertain whether the seal was injured. The pup didn’t appear to be so we decided to not call the marine stranding hotline and check back in the afternoon. I returned several hours later at 1:20, a few minutes before the super high tide, and was fortunate to see the pup looking much perkier, and shortly thereafter, heading back to sea!
One thought that occurred is that Gray Seals prey on seal pups. Perhaps the Harbor Seal had hauled out to escape the Gray Seal.
Also spotted was a grand adult Bald Eagle soaring overhead and an American Painted Lady Butterfly basking in the sun.
American Painted Lady, November 8, 2021
What to do if you come across a beached, or hauled out, Harbor Seal
A beautiful golden seal pup was seen at Long Beach Sunday morning. The little Harbor Seal appeared to be only about 25 pounds and was possibly a newborn. The pup was found at the high tide line and was perfectly intact; perhaps he had died within hours of finding him.
Baby Harbor seals spend much of their time out of water on beaches resting and warming while their moms are in the water looking for food. We don’t know how this seal became separated from its mom, but if you do find a dead baby seal on the beach contact NOAA to let them know. NOAA Hotline: 866-755-6622 (Maine through Virginia).
Edited Note – My friend Sandy shared the following phone number from New Hampshire’s Seacoast Science Center, writing that this number is a cell phone so you can easily send a text and photo: 603-997-9448. Ainsley Smith shares that SSC number is good as far south as Essex.
This is a good time of year to remind everyone what to do if you find a living seal pup, or a seal of any age, on the beach. Please keep a distance of at least 100 feet away, which is the law, and keep dogs far away. From the 100 feet distance, check to see if the seal is injured. If the seal appears to be in good condition, leave it alone and remind fellow beach goers to keep their distance. A mother seal may leave her pup on the beach for up to 48 hours!
If the seal is struggling or appears to be injured contact NOAA at 866-755-6622
A bob of five Harbor Seals has spent the past few afternoons lollying about in a socially distant fashion on the rocks at Brace Cove. I write ‘naturally’ distancing not because of coronavirus, but because they prefer some measure of personal space when hauled out. We see both Harbor Seals and Gray Seals at Brace Cove throughout the year although there seem to be fewer during the spring and summer months. I wonder if that is because they are busy breeding and raising young. With the onset of cooler weather their numbers have been increasing once again. On a bright sunny day last winter we counted twenty-nine!
While filming the tiny Dovekie as he was blithely bopping along the inner Harbor, dip diving for breakfast and seeming to find plenty to eat, suddenly from directly beneath the Dovekie, two ginromous chocolate brown heads popped up. Almost sea serpent-like, and so completely unexpected! I leapt up and totally ruined the shot, and the little Dovekie was even more startled. He didn’t fly away but ran pell mell across the water about fifteen feet before giving a furtive look back, and then submerging himself.
So there we were face to face, only about twenty feet apart. We spent a good deal of time eyeing each other, several minutes at least, both trying to figure out the other’s next move. Their eyes are so large and expressively beautiful. Down they dove and search as I might, could not spot them again.
There have been plenty of Harbor Seals seen in Gloucester Harbor, but I have never been so close to a Grey Seal, and so delighted to see not one, but two!
The following are a number of ways to tell the difference between a Harbor Seal and a Grey Seal.
Harbor Seals are smaller (5 to 6 feet) than average Grey Seals (6 feet 9 inches long to 8 feet 10 inches long). Bull Grey Seals have been recorded measuring 10 feet 10 inches long!
Harbor Seals have a concave shaped forehead, with a dog-like snout. The head of a Grey Seal is elongated, with a flatter forehead and nose.
Harbor Seal head shape left, Grey Seal head right
Harbor Seals have a heart or V-shaped nostrils. The nostrils of Grey Seals do not meet at the bottom and create more of a W-shape.
Harbor Seal, heart or V-shaped, nostrils
Grey Seal W-shaped nostrils
Grey Seals are not necessarily gray. They are also black and brown. Their spots are more irregular than the spots of a Harbor Seal.
Grey Seals and Harbor Seals are true “earless seals,” which does not mean that they cannot hear but are without external ear flaps.
The past week Eastern Point has seen a wonderful influx of wildlife, in addition to the beautiful creatures already wintering over and migrating through.
On Tuesday before Thanksgiving, a great raft of Ring-necked Ducks joined the flock of Buffleheads and Mallards at Niles Pond. Five chunky American Coots have been there for over a week, and two female Ruddy Ducks have been spotted.
Fifteen Harbor Seals were sunning and basking on the rocks at Brace Cove on Wednesday, along with several Bonaparte’s Gulls that were diving and foraging in the waves. The increasingly less timid Lark Sparrow is still here, too.
Great Blue Heron agitating the Ring-necked Ducks
The most enigmatic of Great Blue Herons criss crosses the pond a dozen times a day but, unlike last year’s fall migrating GBH, who allowed for a closer glimpse, this heron is super people shy. He has been here for about a week and was present again today.
This morning I watched the four beautiful Mute Swans depart over Brace Rock, in a southerly direction. Will they return? Mute Swans migrate from body of water to body of water within a region. Perhaps they will return, or they could possibly have flown to a nearby location–further exploring our Island.
The four had not returned to Niles Pond by day’s end. If any of our readers sees a group of four Mute Swans, please write and let us know. Thank you so much!
Leaving Niles Pond this morning and flying over Brace Cove.
Juno, mom Mary Ellen, and friend Julie were out on the Niles Pond berm Sunday, admiring the Harbor Seals basking. We counted thirteen seals that afternoon.
I didn’t realize one seal had its mouth wide open until looking at the photos the following day. Seal’s use their strong teeth and powerful jaws to rip apart prey and are yet another reason not to get too close to a seal hauled out on land.
As was everyone else, the Harbor Seals were enjoying Tuesday’s 50 degree weather. Much jockeying, grunting, and gnarling over prime rock-real estate was taking place. Paintings of nudes by Renoir and Botero, along with the made-up word tubylette, come to mind whenever I see these bathing beauties basking on the rocks at Brace Cove.By the time I left after sunset, there were no less than fourteen Harbor Seals hauled out on the rocks.
While photographing the beautiful young Harbor Seal at Brace Cove this week I noticed a large protuberance centered between the seal’s hind flippers. It’s soft fur looked buffy gold in the morning light and it was much easier to see the seal’s anatomical parts than when photographing a darker, more mature seal. I at first thought the prominent knob was its penis, but after googling, discovered, no, it was a tail! However, I can’t find any answers as to what use the tail is employed.
The bulging, rounded cone-shape between the seal’s hind flippers is a tail.
When Harbor Seals are on land their hind flippers are often closed together but this little guy was in a lolling mood. I watched him from my perch, where I was curled up on the rocks for some time, as he stretched, scratched, slept, and yawned.
The Harbor Seal’s V-shaped, or as I like to think of it as heart-shaped, nose nostrils close when underwater.
I think the seal is molting. Harbor Seals molt once a year and the fur of younger seals (up until about three years of age) is more uniform in color.
Harbor Seals, like all phocids, have ear holes, but no external ear flaps.
The Harbor Seal feeds predominantly on fish such as herring, mackerel, hake, salmon, flounder, and cod. They also eat shrimp, squid, clams, crab, octopus, and crayfish. They swallow prey whole or tear into pieces, and use their back molars to crush shellfish. Typically the seals feed at high tide and rest during low tide. Everyday, the adult Harbor Seal eats approximately five percent of its body weight.
Its hind flippers propel the seal through water, in a sort of sculling rhythm. True seals, like Harbor Seals, cannot rotate their hind flippers and that is why they scooch along on their bellies when on dry land.
The blunt one- to two-inch claws of the fore flippers are used for grooming and for defense.
Harbor Seal grooming with its claws.
I went hoping for a beautiful sky and and found both sky and beautiful Harbor Seal.
The last morning of 2018 began with a gorgeously hued sunrise, and then, as so often happens on the wild and wonderful shores of Cape Ann, there were several chance and up close encounters with our local creatures. Nearly everyday I am reminded of the astonishing beauty that surrounds, from my East Gloucester neighborhood, to the natural habitats all around Cape Ann and Massachusetts. What a magnificent Planet we share!
Happy New Year and wishing you much love, joy, and beauty in the coming year.
Buffy gold juvenile Harbor Seal in the golden light of sunrise -an amazingly nonchalant, young Harbor Seal was close to shore this morning, sleeping, stretching, yawning, and scratching. More photos tomorrow when I have time to sort through all.And a duo of American Wigeons (both male) were foraging on the sea lettuce floating around the rocky coast. More about them, too. 🙂 Notice their electric green eye patches and baby blue bills.
November’s nearly full Frost Moon was rising over Brace Cove, while the sun was setting over the harbor. Violet sunset clouds swirled around the rising moon when moments later the moon shone brightly through the pine trees. November’s full moon is also called the Beaver Moon-both the early colonists and Algonquin tribes named it so because November was the designated time of year to set Beaver traps before ponds and swamps froze.
November Frost Moon rising over Niles Pond
Harbor Seals in the setting sun and rising moonlight–a seal-a-rock 🙂
Spring Peeper out and about before hibernating for the winter.
Relishing the last of these golden days, we took advantage of Sunday’s delightfully beautiful weather with a hike around Eastern Point. Several female Yellow-rumped Warblers were spotted feeding on seed heads, a lone turtle was basking on a sun-warmed rock, the Harbor Seals were lolling about, and a tiny Spring Peeper was spied in the fallen leaves.
You can see why these sweet birds are called Yellow-rumped Warblers. Note the little flash of yellow on the rump of the warbler flying in the background.
With record number of seals washing ashore from several illnesses, I thought now would be a good time to repost my seal PSA. This beautiful juvenile Harbor Seal was found on a foggy morning in midsummer. The seal was beached at the high tide line and its breathing was heavy and labored. It had no interest in returning to the water and needed only to remain at rest.
For the next six hours the seal struggled to survive the world of curious humans.
Learn what to do if you find a seal on the beach.
The phone number for marine mammal wildlife strandings is 866-755-6622.
Monday morning there was a seal hauled out at Good Harbor and folks were taking selfies with the worn out little feller. Here’s what do if you come upon a seal that appears to be stranded on the beach.
DOS and DON’TS of Interacting with Seals on the Beach
DO stay at least one hundred and fifty feet away from the seal.
DO observe (from a distance, with binoculars or camera lens) for any outward sign of injury, bleeding or net entanglement, for example. If the seal appears injured, call this number: 866-755-6622 at the Northeast Region Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding and Entanglement Hotline.
DON’T try to feed the seal.
DON’T cover up the seal with a blanket.
DON’T pour water on the seal.
DON’T let your dog anywhere near the seal (dangerous for both animals).
DON’T try to help the seal back into the water.
DON’T take a selfie with the seal.
Harbor Seals are semi-aquatic and it is perfectly natural for a seal to beach themselves. Seals haul out all year round, and for a variety of reasons. They use rocks, reefs, and beaches. The seal may need to rest, for thermal regulation (to warm up), to molt, to give birth, to socialize with other seals, or are trying to escape danger, such as a shark. When you force the seal back into the water by getting too close and frightening the creature, before it is ready to return to the sea, you are potentially causing the seal a great deal of harm.
Not the prettiest of sunsets, though not bad for a chilly January first morning. Initially it looked to be a bust, but the clouds parted a bit and the sun shone brightly through. Happy New Year wishes. I hope the coming year brings you much love, joy, happiness, and peace <3
Over the past few weeks there have been reports of seals on our local beaches. This short film was created because several summers ago a Harbor Seal came ashore at Good Harbor Beach. It is in people’s nature to want to help an animal that appears to be in distress, and the little Good Harbor Beach seal was no exception, quickly becoming the object of many people’s attention.
Finding seals on the beach is natural. They may be injured, but more often than not, simply need to rest. After making the film, I learned an additional reason as to why seals haul out and that is because sharks may be present. Forcing the seal back into the water by getting too close may be driving the seal toward the very creature it is trying to escape, and to its death. The distance recommended is 150 feet, at the very least.
Providing excellent camouflage, Harbor Seals have evolved with coats that blend perfectly with the surrounding rocks and sandy shores on which they “haul out.” Each individual Harbor Seal’s pattern of spots is unique, with two basic variations, either a light coat with dark spots or a dark coat with light spots. Their bellies are generally lighter colored.
Harbor Seals are easily disturbed by human activity, which is the reason why they are all looking in my direction. I climbed way out on the rocks to get a closer look that they found disturbing enough, when a loud crash in the distance made them all jump simultaneously.
Fellow friends of Niles Pond and I have all noticed that the seal in the above photo is noticeably whiter. He has a big gash on his neck as you can see in the close-up photo, which I didn’t notice until looking through the pictures. I wonder if that is why he has been spending so much time on the rocks. Perhaps he is recovering.
Interesting fact: Although Harbor Seals have been seen as far south as the Carolinas, Massachusetts is the most southern region in which they breed.
The beautiful juvenile Harbor Seal was found on a foggy morning in midsummer. The seal was beached at the high tide line and its breathing was heavy and labored. It had no interest in returning to the water and needed only to remain at rest.
For the next six hours the seal struggled to survive the world of curious humans.
Learn what to do if you find a seal on the beach.
Written, produced, edited, cinematography, and narration by Kim Smith.
The Good Harbor Beach Seal PSA was created because of the lack of understanding on the part of my my fellow beachgoers on how to mangae a seal encounter. Please help get the word out and please forward the link to friends and neighbors in other communities, whether or not the community is located by the sea. It was the folks from out of town that did not understand that the seal needed simply to be left alone. Thank you!
Although the Good Harbor Seal was not injured, help was needed with the gathering crowd. I called our local police, who in turn sent Lieutenant Roger Thurlow from the Environmental Police. Has anyone had experience with a marine stranding, and if so, is the following the best number to call: Northeast Region Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding and Entanglement Hotline ~ 866-755-6622? I will post your hotline recommendations here.
Technical note–The video was filmed without a tripod because I was afraid the tripod would look like a gun and didn’t want to further stress the seal. After reading more about Harbor Seals, I learned that their big brown eyes are particularly adapted to sight in murky water (i.e. harbor waters), but that their eyesight is not that good on land. In retrospect, I don’t think that the seal would have associated the tripod with a weapon. Also, I filmed at a distance much further away than my camera’s capabilities, which caused much vignetting around the edges of many of the clips. I didn’t want to stand close to the seal and be the filmmaker-who-becomes-part-of-the-problem, and not the solution.