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By Phil Colarusso
“Let’s go to the beach,” my wife said hopefully. I looked out the window at the dark threatening skies and hesitated. It was Labor Day, and the last hours of summer were quickly running out. As I have gotten older, the end of summer has become a melancholy time for me. More so than birthdays, summers mark the passage of time for me. Labor Day brings the end of another summer and the prospect of another long New England winter. “All right, let’s take a chance,” I replied.
We arrived at a completely deserted beach. Apparently, all the other potential beachgoers looked at the sky and opted to stay home. We had a three-mile stretch of sandy beach virtually to ourselves – no walkers, no swimmers, no boaters, just us and the seagulls.
Halfway down the beach, I looked out to the water and saw a dog swimming towards us. We stopped and watched, and as it got closer we realized our “dog” was actually a harbor seal. It came ashore and wriggled up above the water line a mere 20 feet away from us. Three miles of deserted beach, and this seal chose to beach itself at our feet.
The seal eyed us suspiciously for a moment, then deeming us to be harmless, closed its eyes and went to sleep. Harbor seals routinely come ashore to rest and regulate their body temperature. Seals are capable of sleeping underwater or bobbing at the surface, but those are only catnaps. To get any real rest, they need to emerge from the sea away from predators.
A few raindrops began to fall and it was time to make a run for the car. The seal sensed our movement and looked in our direction as we began to reverse our course. I looked back at the lone figure on the deserted beach and I swear he gave me a nod as if to say, “see you next summer.”
At the exit point of the beach is a sign that reads “Take Just What You Need.” On this last day of summer, my wife and I got just what we needed: a gift from the sea to sustain our spirits through the next long New England winter.
Editor’s Note: All marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This law makes it illegal to touch, disturb, feed or otherwise harass marine mammals without authorization.
More information if you encounter a seal or another marine animal on a beach in New England is available from the New England Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Team.
More information on seals found in New England is available from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA New England, and is an avid diver. He’s living the dream in Wenham with wife JoAnn, two kids, dog and white picket fence.