Long Island is home to an amazing array of marine life, birds, and common suburban animals (ie: deer, fox, etc.). Seals are a special treat because they are just visitors during the winter months. You have to be really motivated if you want to see a seal because it’s cold and they’re slumbering and frolicking at the beach where it’s even colder out. We may not feel like its beach weather, but this is like Florida to them since they’re vacationing here from their Arctic home.
If you have the time, you can do your research and scout out possible areas for seals around low tide and look for them on your own. If you’re like our family, you need something more concrete to fit into a busy schedule. Signing up for a seal walk gives you specific dates and times and a knowledgeable guide who can answer all of your curious questions. Signing up is usually no cost or obligation, but the walks do have a maximum number and they do fill up. (I have heard that some walks take up to 100 people!) If you really have your heart set on a specific day and it’s filled, check to see if there’s a waiting list option available. Our family was on a waiting list, but we were bumped up the night before. This worked out really well for us and for whatever reason (19 degrees and snowing!), our group turned out to be pretty small.
Our choice of going with an organized group was a good decision. The naturalist volunteer from CRESLI had a lot of experience with the walks and even seal rescue. He was very amicable and enriched our visit with his experiences. It was interesting to hear about the rescue efforts that are employed to keep our marine life alive and healthy. He also came with two high powered telephoto lenses so we could get a really close view of the seals. Note, by law you can not disturb the seals or go within 50 yards of them. If you want to take pictures or video, make sure you have great zoom or a telephoto. All of my pictures and video were taken with an iPhone (you could add a telephoto lens) and a standard Canon camera. Either choice, don’t forget a tripod for stabization. We were at least 200 feet away from the seals on our visit.
The majority of seals you will see along the southern coast of Long Island are Harbor Seals. Hooded, Ringed, and Harp seals are uncommon. If you venture towards Montauk Point, you will see more Grey Seals, the largest (weighing up to 700 lbs!). I think that will be our next seal walk!
Long Island beaches are beautiful and rare (even in the winter). We have ecosystems on our Island that are not found anywhere else on the planet. Keep them clean. Take your trash home with you and don’t be afraid to take some you find on the beach. Yes, you can make a difference!
There are three main seal walks that we found to be rich in information and key areas to find seals. They all ask for donations which fund their research and aid to marine life. The donations for each are $3-5 per person. Donations are typically optional (we weren’t even asked for the money when we went with CRESLI). However, you’ll probably want to support the organization since you’re the type of person who is standing out in the freezing cold just to see some adorable seals on a beach. (It gets cold on the water. Hand warmers and foot warmers will help you stay out longer to watch the seals.)
- Cupsogue Beach, Westhampton http://www.cresli.org/
- Montauk Point State Park https://parks.ny.gov/parks/attachments/MontaukPointSealWalksBrochure.pdf
- Jones Beach State Park, Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center, Wantagh https://parks.ny.gov/environment/nature-centers/4/details.aspx
Enjoy your trip to your seal walk location. Long Island is filled with many captivating images and moments. Take your time strolling towards your destination and you might find some interesting places to visit and friendly faces. Our trip through Westhampton was picturesque.
Some fun seal facts:
- We learned seals evolved from Bears. They have two wrist bones and digits with claws! A harbor seal’s jaws are similar to a German Shepherd! That makes for a difficult rescue and rehabilitation for a naturalist.
- They have a thick layer of blubber that is not only insulation, but also makes them more buoyant and becomes a food/energy source in scarce times.
- Seals are protected here under the Marine Mammal Act of 1972. (But in other parts of the world they are still hunted for their coats.)
- Their gestation period is 11.5 months! (Most of this time is spent resting on the Long Island shores.)