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The 4 Best Places to See Seals on the East Coast

The TerraMar Project - March 15, 2017 in TMP

The 4 Best Places to See Seals on the East Coast
Harbor Seals. Photo: Dr. Brandon Southall/NMFS/OPR/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Not everyone might know this, but the East Coast is an amazing place to catch a glimpse of some of the Ocean’s cutest and most playful sea creatures. Seals.

From Canada to New York 2 common species of “true seals” can be found in abundance close to shore if you know the right places to look.

 

Harbor Seals – On the East Coast, Harbor seals are found from the Canadian Arctic down to New York, and occasionally as far south as the Carolinas. These animals don’t migrate, and use rocks, reef, beach, or drifting glacial ice as haul out spots to mate and raise their young. They eat mostly fish, shellfish, and crustaceans, and can dive for up to 30 minutes at a time. They have a dog-like nose, and a blue-gray back with light and dark speckling. This is probably the most commonly seen seal near-shore.

Gray Seals – Very similar-looking in coloration to Harbor seals, Gray seals are also commonly found near-shore on the East Coast of the United States and Canada. They use the same habitat as Harbor seals, seeking rocks, beaches, sandbars, and ice-shelves as haul out sites. And they feed on fish, crustaceans, and shellfish as well. The noticeable difference between the two is that unlike the Harbor seal’s “dog-like” nose, the Gray seal has a flatter, “horse-like” nose. These guys can be found most commonly from Massachusetts to Canada. Breeding season for the Gray Seal is from September to March, which is when they can be seen in greatest numbers close to shore.

 

Gray Seals. Photo: Mehgan Murphy/Smithsonians National Zoo/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

All species of marine mammals (including these 2 species of seals) are federally protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. What this means for seal watchers is that you can look but you cannot touch…or bother or interrupt these animals when you see them. It’s illegal to feed, touch, or harass seals in any way that disrupts their natural behavior. But don’t let that deter you from witnessing these amazing animals in the wild. For responsible viewing, it’s recommended that you stay at least 150 feet away from the animals, and use binoculars or cameras to get a better view.

  1. Chatham, Massachusetts

Gray Seal

Photo: Keith Shannon/USFWS/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Chatham, MA is probably your most consistent bet to view seals on the East Coast, hosting the largest gathering of Harbor and Gray seals. Between watching the seals follow fishing boats into the dock at Chatham fishing pier, and being able to see them haul out at lighthouse beach, you are almost guaranteed to see at least a few at the right time of year. Gray seals can be seen in greatest abundance here between September and October, when they arrive in large numbers to breed.

 

  1. Montauk Lighthouse, New York

Montauk Point

Montauk Point lighthouse from Cape Hero State Park

Though not guaranteed, one of your best chances to see some Harbor or Gray seals floating around close to shore will be at the Montauk lighthouse at the end of Long Island, NY. The waters around the lighthouse are abundant with small fish and other prey, and the unique habitat of rocks deposited by glacial-melt provides an amazing location for these animals. You can park at either Cape Hero State Park and hike down to the rocks surrounding the lighthouse, or you can park in the lighthouse parking lot nearer to the point and walk from there. In the summer there is usually a cost to park, but in the winter it is free. The best times to see these animals are generally in the colder months, and they usually like to hang out just past the surfers there.

 

  1. Cupsogue Beach County Park, New York

Moriches Inlet

Cupsogue Beach County Park facing Moriches Inlet

Cupsogue Beach County Park on Long Island, NY is a great place to take a short hike along the shore to view seals in Moriches Inlet. Located at the western end of Westhampton Island (the furthest point west on Dune Road), you can leave your car at the entrance to the 296-acre park and walk towards to Inlet where the seals often can be seen floating around, and sometimes hauled out on the beach. Again, the best time to see both Harbor and Gray seals here is during the breeding months between September and March.

 

  1. Rome Point, Rhode Island

The best place to view Harbor seals from land in Rhode Island is at Rome Point. Located in John H. Chafee Nature Preserve, in North Kingstown, RI, Rome Point is the home to wintering colonies of Harbor seals from September to March. Often found on a set of rocks named “the seven sisters”, these seals can be seen from shore most days at the end of the peninsula.

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