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Feb 21, 2018 9:38 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Cruises Scope Out Growing Population Of Seals In Shinnecock Bay

Harbor seals in Shinnecock Bay. COURTESY DANIELLE LEEF
Feb 21, 2018 12:10 PM

Onlookers crushed to one side of the boat, whipping out cameras and binoculars, desperate to get a look. There they were, like a line of shiny rocks against the horizon: harbor seals.

A peek through the scope set up on the top deck by Aaron Virgin, vice president of the environmental organization Group for the East End, revealed more about the huddle of 70 blubbery seals lying across a sandbar in Shinnecock Bay on Saturday. Bellies down and tails up, some of the seals napped in the sunshine, while others stretched up to meet the warmth. Some slithered off the sand and, with a plop, submerged for a swim.

The seal-watching cruises run by the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, or AMCS, curate this experience, intent on bringing East End residents into closer contact with their marine neighbors.

“I think people just want to be informed about what they see in the wild,” said Rob DiGiovanni, founder of AMCS, of the popularity of the cruises. “You get to experience the wonders of nature and get educated by people with firsthand knowledge.”

AMCS started up the cruises last year, and brought them back this year by popular demand. “It’s a great opportunity to interact with people and partner with local groups,” Mr. DiGiovanni added.

Over the last decade, more seals have been spotted around Long Island. “This is what you hope to see after they’ve been protected for a while,” he said.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 stopped the killing of seals, a common practice for a time, since they were considered a nuisance to fisheries. Now, waters off the East End are populated by harbor seals, with occasional greys, harps and hoodeds also making appearances.

The problem is, besides casual spotting, the AMCS doesn’t know much else about the seals.

“We want to know: what’s their health status, what are they doing here, and when do they leave,” Mr. DiGiovanni said of his organization’s desire to ramp up separate research endeavors. “We know that, in the normal paradigm, they pop up north during the summer and come south to spend the winters in our waters. But the variability is hard to tease out without more data.”

Satellite tags cost anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000 each, according to Mr. DiGiovanni, though he said that AMCS is working to create a team and secure funding to study the seals more closely.

“We hope to get some health assessments done late this year or early next year,” he said. “It’s a big effort getting the animal—but once we can tag them, we want to get as much information as we can.”

Tickets for the seal-watching cruises are $25; information is at amseas.org/events.

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how about we tag you and track your movements?
By thepresssucks (22), watermill on Feb 23, 18 9:00 AM
1 member liked this comment
Have a smartphone? They already do.
By Pacman (273), Southampton on Feb 23, 18 10:04 AM
1 member liked this comment
The shark population will explode next, just like Cape Cod. Then they won't be so cute.
By TheGoodLife (43), Westhampton Beach on Feb 23, 18 3:13 PM