Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island, Inc.

150 Idle Hour Blvd., Oakdale  NY 11769-1999, Attn: Department of Earth and Marine Sciences, Dowling College

 

 

 

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Seal Research

 Program

The Coastal Research & Education Society of Long Island's (CRESLI) Seal Research Program monitors seal populations and conducts long term behavioral studies of seals around Long Island. This includes regular observations at major haul out sites around Long Island. Population counts over the last 16 years have indicated a dramatic increase in the number of seals utilizing Long Island's waters, as well as a shift in the species composition of the region.   Historically, Long Island's seal species typically included Harbor  and Grey seals, which are relatively abundant in our waters from late fall until late spring.  In recent years,  "arctic" species such as Harp, Hooded and Ringed seals that were once extremely rare for Long Island, have also become more commonly sighted.

Seal surveys can be conducted using land-based, aerial and shipboard platforms concurrently (if possible) in order to assess the accuracy of each count. During aerial and ship-based surveys two population estimates are produced. First a visual estimate is made by observers in the field. Subsequently, high resolution digital images taken from the aircraft and vessels are viewed and counts are taken. Differential counts are made for animals at or above the water's surface and below the surface, producing an accurate count. The shipboard surveys produce an estimate by counting and photographing the animals. The shipboard surveys are subsequently used to assess the sex ratio and age composition of the animals at these sites.

Based upon the studies conducted by CRESLI's scientists there are 26 sites around Long Island that seals have been found to occupy. These include sites as unusual as one in the shadow of Kennedy Airport, and as remote as Fishers and Plum Islands. These surveys are integral parts of CRESLI's Seal Research Program. Many students and volunteers assist in these long term studies.

Site monitoring is conducted at one or more specific haul out sites. Detailed observations are collected as part of a long term behavioral study to better understand feeding, mating and social organization of seals. This project includes recording the age and sex structure of a group of seals, and the specific interactions of particular individuals based upon recurrent observations of the displays and other interactions. CRESLI's Seal Research Program  also now includes photo-identification of harbor and grey seals using  high resolution digital SLR cameras connected to telescopes,  These are new areas of study for seals on Long Island.  Contributions to CRESLI from seal walks and other activities have enabled us to purchase the necessary equipment to conduct this new research.  Thank you.


CRESLI's photo-identification catalog of harbor seals at Cupsogue Beach

Dr. A. Kopelman has been compiling a catalog of harbor seals that utilize the haul out site at Cupsogue beach (near Moriches Inlet).  As of February 2014, the catalog contains 70 seals that are identifiable based upon pelage marking patterns.  Several of these seals have returned every year, since 2006, other have returned less frequently but stll return to use that site. The catalog is part of an on-going long term study of site fidelity and population dynamics. Samples photos from 60 identified and named seals cab be seen at

 http://drartiek-cresli.smugmug.com/Pinnipeds/Cupsogue-Identified-harbor


this year's seal walk schedule.


Some interesting facts about seals

Seals are able to hold their breath for a long time during dives, using oxygen stored in the blood and muscles as well as the lungs.

Seals have a thick blubber layer and a counter-current heat exchange system which combined with fur, protects them from the loss of heat to the water and the frigid climates in which they live.

Seal have large eyes which enable them to see quite well both above and below the water.

Seals have a well developed sense of hearing and sensitive whiskers. Their keen senses allow seals to be impressive predators.

Seals feed mainly on fish, crustaceans and shellfish. Some, such as the leopard seal, feed on penguins, and the crabeater seal feeds almost exclusively on tiny shrimp-like animals called krill


Be a Responsible Seal Viewer -

Comply with federal seal watching guidelines

HARASSMENT WARNING SIGNS:

If your presence causes any of the following reactions, on land or in the water, you are too close.
  • Increased vocalizations by seals
  • Movement back into the water (single animal or the herd)
  • All eyes are on you (single animal or several in the herd)
  • Disturbance from normal resting position (lifting their head to watch you)

STAY AT LEAST 50 YARDS AWAY FROM RESTING SEALS

  • Seals that are continually being approached never get a chance to rest.
  • Repeated interaction can exhaust seals, leaving them vulnerable to predation and illness
  • Continued disturbance of mother /pup pairs could lead to abandonment and subsequent mortality of the pup.
  • Stay on the upper part of the beach or bluffs and away from the water's edge. Remain quiet and calm during the observation.

NEVER GET IN THE WATER WITH SEALS

  • Seals are large, wild animals and can be extremely dangerous.
  • If they feel threatened they may become aggressive in order to defend themselves.

NEVER ATTEMPT TO FEED SEALS.

  • You could get seriously injured.
  • Feeding seals is against the law; you could be arrested and/or fined.
  • Food that isn't a normal part of their diet will do more harm than good!
  • Feeding negatively impedes their ability to hunt and locate food on their own.
  • Feeding encourages seals to approach boats looking for handouts.
  • This behavior has resulted in injuries from boat propellers.

LIMIT YOUR VIEWING TIME: TO A MAXIMUM OF 30 MINUTES.

If seals are spotted from a boat, maintain a distance of about 200 yards in order to avoid disrupting the animals' behavior.

If you find a seal (or other marine mammal) that appears to be injured, entangled,  or otherwise in distress, do not approach it.

Call the NYS Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Program (631-369-9829) as soon as possible.  Be ready to provide the following information:

  • Your name and phone number;

  • The location of the animal (exact or approximate);

  • A description of the animal and its apparent condition.

Seal map

Long Island's Seals

Although five species of seal can be found on Long Island's shores, only the harbor seal is common on Long Island. Anecdotal stories suggest that harbor seals were quite abundant on Long Island up to the mid 1900's. Grey seals used to be uncommon winter visitors, but now are regularly seen in small numbers, with pups often stranding in March and April. Until recently Arctic species such as harp and hooded seals rarely ventured south of northern Maine. Now more of these seals are stranding on Long Island's beaches every year. In the 1994-5 season the number of stranded harp seals actually exceeded harbor seals. In addition, a small number of ringed seals, another Arctic species, have stranded here.

In the early 1980's harbor seals were seen in small numbers mainly on remote beaches and islands. Estimates of the total winter population were thought to be several hundred with less than 15 strandings each year. In following years more and more sightings were reported and strandings rose dramatically, with well over 100 seals stranded each year. In 1995 there were 157 strandings! The elimination of seal hunting in the continental US and much of Canada may be a factor in the increase of seal populations. Population increases north of Long Island may mean that these animals are extending their range southward to Long Island.

this year's seal walk schedule.


 CRESLI Seal Cruises - charters for groups of 35 or more

harbor seals hauled out

Join CRESLI on a naturalist guided exploration of Long Island's eastern bays and remote outer islands to view these fascinating pinnipeds in their natural habitat. Seals are often observed feeding, playing and hauling out in the sun on their favorite rocks. Many species of seabirds and ducks are also encountered, and LI's rich natural history is discussed.  Send an e-mail requesting further information about  seal cruise group charters to Dr. Arthur Kopelman

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Click here for images from previous seal walks

Click here to see last year's sightings report

Click here to return to the seal walk schedule

 

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