Tag Archives: Phoca vitulina

GIANT SEALS SCARED THE BEEJEEZUS OUT OF ME!

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.

Dovekie Gloucester Harbor

GLORIOUS BRACE COVE SUNRISE (WITH SEALS)

Although frigid, the well-insulated Harbor Seals were lolling on the rocks well before the sun rose.

BEAUTIFUL WILDLIFE CURRENTLY AT EASTERN POINT, BRACE COVE, AND NILES POND – GREAT BLUE HERON, HARBOR SEALS, AMERICAN COOTS, BONAPARTE’S GULLS, RUDDY DUCKS, RING-NECKED DUCKS, LARK SPARROW AND WILL THE RECENTLY DEPARTED SWANS RETURN?

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.

American Coot

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.

Lark Sparrow

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.

HARBOR SEALS BASKING AT BRACE COVE – DON’T MESS WITH THESE BAD BOYS!

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.

Julie, Juno, and Mary Ellen

TUBYLETTES BASKING

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.

Do Seals Have Tails?

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.

Harbor Seal at sunrise, Brace Cove

Sunrise Spectacular on the Last day of 2018 (Harbor Seals and American Wigeons, too)!o

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.