A Visit to Project Oceanology in Groton, CT

Lighthouses, seals, and Long Island Sound. Whether you're looking for a full day excursion or a two hour tour, Project Oceanology's hands-on, inquiry-based shore and laboratory programs offer marine science for anyone who climbs aboard.

Doubling as a floating classroom, Project O offers public cruises year round from Oceanographic Cruises from July through September to Seal Watch Cruises during the winter months. Project O also offers a range of summer camps from overnight residential ocean camps to the Connecticut River Institute to a joint camp program with Mystic Aquarium

Project O opened the doors of its waterfront facility in Groton in 1972 and has been on a mission to educate and nurture enthusiasm for the coastal and marine environments ever since. Whether studying the salt marshes, rocky intertidal zones, sandy beaches and near-shore marine life or heading out on the Enviro-Lab for an oceanographic cruise, Project O offers internationally recognized hands-on, year-round programming for kids.

Yes, I did say year-round programming.

Yup, even in February, Project O is taking kids out on the water.

February, you say?

Well, it just so happens that about 20 minutes from the docks of University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus in New London County, there is a colony of Harbor Seals enjoying their balmy southern hangout along Fisher’s Island.These seals are migratory animals, moving from the Gulf of Maine down here to Long Island Sound starting in mid-October for the winter before heading back north the end of April in order to pup. Lucky for us, during the months of February, March and April, Project O invites children 6 and up, with their seafaring grownups, to climb aboard its 56-foot Enviro-Lab II Research Vessel for the two-hour voyage. Project O’s other 65-foot research vessel, the Enviro-lab III services the Connecticut River Museum in Essex this time of year, offering eagle-watching tours along the river.

Before leaving the center’s docks, passengers are shown a slideshow illustrating ways to identify a harbor seal in an incredibly kid-friendly presentation lasting about 20 minutes. After, life jackets are secured and it’s time to board the Enviro-Lab II to find some seals. Families are encouraged to bring binoculars, but the Enviro-Lab II have some to share. The boat cruises over to Fishers Island Sound, which has continually proven to have some of the best spots for good seal watching.

Perhaps the best viewing spot for these 200lb seals, Hungry Point, is on the north end of the island. Passengers are sure to see plenty of sunbathing seals, even on the cloudiest of days. Harbor seals have slowly returned to the Sound, first noticed in the 1980s, they are the predominant species found during the cruise. You may also come across grey seals or harp and hooded seals, otherwise known as ice seals.

On our voyage in March it was cloudy and in the low 30’s, yet we were still able to spot 165 seals both in the water and on the rocks. 

Because Project O's objective is to help educate the public to appreciate and understand marine life, both of our tour guides offered plenty of info about harbor seals that our six year olds could easily comprehend. Before heading back into the docks, our lovely Project O guides offered our kids something just as exciting as the harbor seals: Hot cocoa.

So, if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind educational adventure, or if you really want to just enjoy some hot cocoa on the sea, check out Project O.

Project O cruises are for children 6 years and older and adults. Seal cruises are offered on Saturdays and Sundays through the end of April. Advance registration is required. Check the Project O website for timing, recommended winter garb, and gear. Plan to arrive a half hour before the start of each program. There is ample parking in front of the building. For more information, visit www.oceanology.org.

Photos courtesy of Makayla O'Keefe

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