Counting Harbor seals along the coast in New Jersey during the winter.

Counting Harbor seals along the coast in New Jersey during the winter.

Each year, volunteers with Save Coastal Wildlife carry out surveys of seals during the winter, when many seals have arrived to coastal waters in New York, New Jersey, and Delaware to rest and feed after a busy breeding season up in northern New England and Canada.

When not foraging for prey in the water, seals will spend a good amount of time on land at “haul-out sites” to digest their food, rest, and warm their bodies under the sun, at which time they are visible to be counted in the surveys. Most regions are surveyed by using visual and conventional photography.

 
Harbor Seal

Harbor Seal

 

The estimated number of seals in a population does contain some considerable uncertainties. The largest contribution to uncertainty is the proportion of the seals not counted during the survey because they are in the water. We cannot be certain what this proportion is and it is likely to vary in relation to factors such as state of the tide, weather, and the amount of food resources in an area. Efforts are made to reduce the effect of these factors by always conducting surveys within 2 hours of high tide, which seems to be a time when most seals are resting. Perhaps as much as 40% of seals are likely not to be counted during surveys but because of the uncertainties involved in the surveys, figures are normally presented as minimum estimates of population size.

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Why do seals haul out?

Water conducts heat easily, so aquatic mammals are faced with the problem of staying warm. For seals, time spent on land is time not losing heat so rapidly, and so not having to eat so much. It is a vital aspect of their overall energy balance strategy.

Juvenile Harp Seal resting on a beach in Middletown Township, New Jersey

Juvenile Harp Seal resting on a beach in Middletown Township, New Jersey

Volunteers Needed to Help Monitor Seal Populations

Members of the public are invited to share their interest of marine mammals and seals with Save Coastal Wildlife for this exciting volunteer opportunity. The seal surveys take place in February ad March, during the height of seal season. Save Coastal Wildlife is looking for an enthusiastic volunteers to study these unique mammals.

The Seal Monitoring volunteer program contributes to the long-term monitoring of harbor seals, harps seals, grey seals, and other species of seals, which will aid in protecting seal colonies and assessing the health of the marine ecosystem.

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Duties

Volunteers must be able to use binoculars and make detailed observations and notes. Volunteers must be able to hike distances anywhere from 1 to 2 miles with up to 10 pounds of optical equipment and extra clothing and be able to tolerate sun, wind, fog, and cold. Volunteers must also use own vehicle to transport to and from survey sites and provide own weather appropriate clothing, including rain gear and hiking boots.

Training
Volunteers must attend Seal Monitoring trainings. Dates, times, and locations will be announced in the winter.

Minimum Age
Minimum age is 16. Volunteers under 18 must have a signed parental consent form.

 

If you see a seal resting on a beach:

** Always stay at least 50 feet away.
• Never attempt to touch or handle seals as they can be aggressive if threatened.
• Seals carry diseases that can be passed on to humans and people have diseases that can make seals sick.
• Seals can and do bite, and they can move very quickly.
- Ensure you keep small children at a safe distance, and always keep dogs on a leash, under control and away from seals.
- Do not disturb seals. Don't make loud noises or throw things at them.
- Do not feed seals, as it encourages them to approach people in the future.

 
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If you see a seal that appears injured, entangled, sick, or being harassed by a person, in New Jersey call the Marine Mammal Stranding Center at 609-266-0538. In New York, call the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation at 631-369-9829.  These two organizations have the authority to help stranded or sick marine mammals and sea turtles. Wildlife experts with the help of trained volunteers will determine if an animal is in need of medical attention, needs to be moved from a populated area, or just needs time to rest.

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List of Seal Survey Results for Sandy Hook Bay, New Jersey

 
Grey seal spotted among harbor seals in Sandy Hook Bay on February 16, 2019

Grey seal spotted among harbor seals in Sandy Hook Bay on February 16, 2019

Grey seal spotted among harbor seals in Sandy Hook Bay on March 3, 2019

Grey seal spotted among harbor seals in Sandy Hook Bay on March 3, 2019

 

SEALS IN NEW YORK HARBOR

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Early population study of seals in Lower New York Harbor at Hoffman & Swinburne Islands.

Early population study of seals in Lower New York Harbor at Hoffman & Swinburne Islands.

In addition to Sandy Hook Bay, New Jersey, various seal species haul out in Lower New York Harbor - Swinburne Island and Hoffman Islands, two manmade, long-abandoned pieces of land near Staten Island and south of the Verrazano Bridge. These two small islands provide a rocky, but relatively safe and quiet space for seals to rest, relax and digest their food.

The closest you can get to the islands on land is South and Midland Beaches in Staten Island, which are only about a mile away from viewing the seal on land. To get there from Manhattan, take the Staten Island Ferry, then transfer to the S81 or S85 bus.

If you want a closer look for a fee, the NYC Audubon Society offers weekend eco cruises to spot seals and waterfowl that migrate south in the winter to New York Harbor. Cruises cost $35 for adults and $25 for children ages 12 and under. The cruises run through March 8.

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