Yay! We found one! We were watching a seal leisurely swimming along, occasionally stretching out of the water and bobbing his head up and down. Then we caught a glimpse of another one, and another, and even more. When we were done, my 7-year-old declared that she had seen 23 seal heads!
As we drove out to the Cupsogue Beach County Park in Westhampton, New York we spotted a couple of deer just hanging out and nibbling on the beach foliage, but we couldn’t stop to admire them. We were on a mission to find seals with the Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island, Inc. (CRESLI). We met up with 20 to 30 other people at the beach park where Dr. Arthur Kopelman, the President of CRESLI, gave us an introduction about different seal species including the harbor seals as well as the plight of seals around the world from their loss of habitat due to global warming and how they are still hunted.
Our group then walked about half a mile along a wide, sandy path that runs between the ocean and sound sides of the beach park. My daughters eagerly walked up to the edge of a fence and looked down at the sound side of the beach. It took a few seconds, but we saw a seal’s head pop up and then we saw him swim along the shoreline. We had to look carefully, but we slowly saw other seals swimming along in their natural winter habitat. Who would’ve guessed that harbor seals like to winter in the Hamptons?
Unfortunately, the people walking closer to the shore line disrupted the seals so they were a bit agitated and were swimming when they should have been on the beach resting. Nevertheless, we spent a while admiring and trying to count them. My 7-year-old’s final count of 23 seals might have double and even triple counted a few, but she was too excited to care.
We then spent some time walking along the ocean side of the beach. Our family enjoyed looking for treasures washed up along the wrack line (where kelp, seashells, and other ocean debris wash up). My 10-year-old was rather proud that we found 16 skate egg cases, 4 shark’s eye moon shells, and just about enough parts to reassemble a crab!
- Skills: Visual acuity (trying to find the seals and objects along the beach) and gross motor (walking through the beach park).
- Preparation: Getting ready for this fun day was pretty easy – we brought water, snacks, binoculars, and a camera (the bigger the zoom capability, the better – an iPhone probably isn’t strong enough). It’s important to wear layers and waterproof shoes (or have a spare pair of socks in your car). It was partly cloudy with temperatures in the 40’s while we were there, but the wind made it feel at least 10 degrees colder. Unless your family really doesn’t mind cold, windy weather, I wouldn’t recommend going unless the temperature was at least in the upper 30’s, but preferably in the 40’s or 50’s.
- Cost: This outing had a minimal cost – gas for the car and a suggested donation to the organization – $5 per adult and $3 per child. They also have an annual pass so you can go to an unlimited number of seal walks throughout the season.
- Time & Energy: Guided seal walks are offered from the end of November to the end of April. It was a 90-minute drive from our house, which seems reasonable for seeing seals in their natural habitat. We spent 2 hours at the park, probably an hour with the seal walk and an hour walking along the beach on our own. I would recommend this for school-age children and older.
- Contact Info: If you’re interested in going with CRESLI on a seal walk, check out their website (cresli.org/cresli/seals/sealwalk.html). You can see pictures taken during the seal walks (drartiek-cresli.smugmug.com/Pinnipeds). You can also visit the park on your own, but pay attention to the guidelines for watching the seals which are posted at the entrance to the park. We saw people getting too close to the seals which disrupts their swimming, resting, and feeding habits.