seals

A Gift from the Sea

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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.

 

Photo curtsey of NOAA/NEFSC/PSB.

Photo courtesy of NOAA/NEFSC/PSB.

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.

Photo curtsey of NOAA/NEFSC/PSB.

Photo courtesy of NOAA/NEFSC/PSB.

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.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Furry Friends on Barnegat Bay!

By Sarah Peterson

Seals on Barnegat Bay

Seals on Barnegat Bay

EPA Region 2 is one of several partners assisting the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for the past two years with a water quality survey of Barnegat Bay. We have been sampling weekly from March-October each year and bi-weekly during the winter months. One of the overall goals of this project is to monitor the water quality of the bay because previous data shows that dissolved oxygen and pathogen indicators have exceeded water quality standards in certain areas within Barnegat Bay. Nutrient loading in Barnegat Bay is also a prevalent issue and collaborators on this project hope to identify numeric criteria or nutrient loading targets and revise existing surface water quality standards to set restoration endpoints for the bay.

The EPA has been responsible for sampling at three locations located throughout Barnegat Bay and one located near Barnegat Light. When we are out in the field we take readings for water temperature, pH, specific conductance, salinity, and dissolved oxygen. Surface samples that are collected are analyzed for many different parameters, some of which include: Chlorophyll a, Total Nitrogen, Total Phosphorus, Total Organic Carbon, Alkalinity, Turbidity, and Total Silica. Bottom samples are also collected at each sampling location and are analyzed for similar parameters.

Seals on Barnegat Bay

Seals on Barnegat Bay

In late February 2013, we were near Barnegat Light when we saw what looked like driftwood washed up on a mudflat. As we got closer, we realized it wasn’t driftwood at all. It was a pod of harbor seals sunning themselves.  We continued to see this pod of harbor seals for the next five sampling events. As the temperatures have started to increase, recently, the seals have been in the water rather than on the mudflat, but can still be seen near Barnegat Light. Harbor seals are native to the coast of New Jersey but are not commonly seen, approximately 100 harbor seals call NJ home during the winter months. The harbor seals usually migrate further north by the middle of April. The seals we saw on Barnegat Bay were between five and six feet in length and about 200-250 pounds.

About the Author: Sarah Peterson is an ORISE fellow with the Air and Water Quality Assurance Team within the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment in Edison. She has a BS in Environmental Science and Zoology and a Masters in Environmental Science from Miami University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.