It is way more exciting to see animals in the wild than it is to see them at the zoo. And even here in New York City we are able to glimpse some animals in their natural habitat– and I don’t mean rats, squirrels or pigeons, either. Each fall hundreds of harbor seals start their annual journey from Maine for a warmer climate, traveling south until they reach the temperate waters surrounding Long Island.
One day each winter my family gets up at dawn to brave the freezing temperatures and serious wind chills on Long Island’s beaches to spend some time watching the seals in their winter home. Even though the weather is cold and dreary it feels like a great adventure to get out into nature to go seal watching right here in New York -- all you need is to know where to look.
The seals congregate in 26 spots between Queens and Montauk. To see them, you can go to an Atlantic or Sound Beach on Long Island and look for them yourself, or do what we do and join a guided walk. The advantage to a tour is that they have the dirt on where and when is best to see them. And going with the experts doesn't even have to cost you a dime, the Parks Department is having a free "seal shore safari" right here in New York City on this weekend (1/10/10).
No matter where you choose to seal watch, please, remember to dress for the weather. Wear warm clothing and waterproof shoes. Binoculars can be helpful, too, and make sure to adhere to the posted seal watching rules.
CRESLI (Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island)
Take a 1.2 mile round trip, flat, walk along the dunes with a marine mammal expert to the best seal-viewing vantage point. In total the walk takes about 2 hours (not counting the time spent seal watching) and is suitable for children -- my son was able to do this walk easily at three years old and he wasn’t the only child there.
Where: Cupsogue Beach County Park (Westhampton Beach, Long Island) When: Weekends through May 2010
How much: Suggested contribution $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for children 12 and under.
Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation
If you’ve visited the aquarium, Atlantis Marine World, in Riverhead, you have seen the great work of the Riverhead Foundation. They are devoted to rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing marine mammals and sea turtles. They offer a 2 hour cruise through Hempstead Harbor with a naturalist on board. Where: Captain Lou Fleet (Nautical Mile, Freeport, Long Island)
When: Weekends (and some weekdays, too) through April 2010
How much: $24.00 for adults and $19.00 for children 12 and under.
New York State Parks and Historic Preservation
Spend 2 to 3 hours hiking the north side of beautiful and rugged Montauk Point at low tide with the New York State Parks department. There should be plenty of seals on the rocks here, not to mention the fantastic photo ops of the historic Montauk lighthouse.
Where: Montauk State Park (Montauk, Long Island)
When: Various weekends through April 2010
How much: $5.00 for adults, $3.00 for children +$6.00 for parking.
New York City Department of Parks and Recreation:
If you don’t want to leave the city for your winter adventure - you don’t have to! Take the MTA to Pelham Bay Park in The Bronx for their “seal shore safari” – the perfect place to show the kids a little bit of wild life in our own urban jungle.
Where: Pelham Bay Park (The Bronx)
When: Sunday January 10, 2010 and Sunday February 7, 2010
How much: FREE