Bring binoculars for the best experience.
Bring binoculars for the best experience.

Seal Spotting & Birding Cruise: A Fun Winter Day Trip with Connecticut Kids

Looking for a fun outdoor activity to pass the time this winter? (Which parent isn't?) Maritime Aquarium is offering their popular Seal Spotting & Birding Cruises on select weekends in 2021. Seals migrate from Canada to the warm waters of the Long Island Sound from around mid-November to April, and are most visible to humans when they “haul out” onto the rocky shores that make up the Norwalk Islands. On a sunny, cold Sunday in January, my daughter and I had a blast spotting the cute marine mammals as well as a variety of majestic winter waterfowl from the deck of the aquarium's spacious cruising boat. Of course, just the prospect of trading a day in the house or car for a day on the water was exciting, too!

Read on for details of our experience on the Seal Spotting & Birding Cruise, and find more of our favorite cold-weather adventures with Connecticut kids in our Winter Day Trips guide.

How to Book a Seal Spotting & Birding Cruise at the Maritime Aquarium

To take advantage of low tide, The Seal Spotting & Birding Cruises leave at various times of the day on select weekends throughout the winter. Families can book tickets online, and then meet at the Aquarium Dock next to the IMAX theater. Cruises are two hours and 30 minutes, and are capped at a maximum of 25 passengers to ensure social distancing. Masks are required in 2021, too, of course...and with the chilly breezes out in open water on the Sound, kids might be happy for the extra warmth around their faces!

What to Expect on a Seal Spotting & Birding Cruise at the Maritime Aquarium

A handy guide helps kids identify the winter waterfowl they see. 

The cruise kicks off with a brief explanation of the geography of the area and what features make it particularly appealing to seals and migrating birds in the winter. During the cruise, educators will talk about the seals’ natural histories and use artifacts to discuss seal anatomy. And they’ll discuss what happens with the Sound’s marine population during the winter: who stays, who migrates out and who migrates in (besides the seals).

Once the boat leaves the harbor, educators—and eager little passengers—will begin looking for winter waterfowl. There are dozens of birds that migrate to the Nutmeg State for the winter months. We saw our fair share of long-tailed ducks, brants, and razorbills. We even got to see a loon! The on-board staff supplied us with a handy reference guide with photographs of birds commonly seen during the winter months.  


Bring binoculars for a better glimpse of the seals. Image courtesy of Patty Doyle 

Closer to the Norwalk Islands, families can begin searching for seals. It is very important to bring a pair of binoculars or a long camera lens if you have them. Because it’s illegal for boaters to approach the seals and the fact that the seals are usually around rocks, the boat itself does not get that close to these elusive creatures. To the naked eye, they looked like slightly larger rocks on the horizon. With the help of our binoculars and a trained naturalist, we were able to see about five seals during our time onboard the Research Vessel. 

We also took a water sample early on in our cruise—specifically a plankton tow. The research vessel has powerful electronic microscopes on board that allows guests to see exactly what microorganisms are living in our water. 

 

The Maritime Aquarium's Seal & Bird Spotting Cruise (and its dedicated on-board educators) will capture the attention of any budding naturalist you may have in your family.  Every time we are out on the Sound, we are amazed by the natural beauty of this place so many of us get to call home. Yet, we feel like we are on vacation as the vessel cruised past a lighthouse, under draw bridges, and into the sunset. By the time we docked, we feel completely refreshed and recharged - this experience has breathed some life into what many consider to be the dark days of winter. 
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