By Terri Estes

Harbor seals have been spotted in the waters off Rockaway quite often lately. These adorable, playful mammals can sometimes be seen swimming in the water with just their heads and backs exposed. They have short, dog-like snouts with big round, expressive eyes. They are usually tan or bluish-grey and have dark spots on their body. Adult seals generally measure between 4 to 6 feet and weigh 150 to 300 pounds.

Harbor seals are more abundant in our region during the colder months, from late fall to early spring. During this time, they migrate here from their northern breeding grounds to find food in the warmer waters off Long Island. In the summer months, many of these seals move back to more northern areas. Seal populations in the area are also influenced by food availability and, as I mentioned in a previous article, bunker or menhaden have been plentiful in our waters lately. Harbor seals are opportunistic feeders and, in addition to consuming a variety of fish, will also munch on shellfish and crustaceans. In addition to harbor seals, occasionally, their larger cousin, the grey seal, will make an appearance, but the harbor seal is the most common seal in our area.

Occasionally, the harbor seal will come ashore to rest or sun themselves. If you come across one, do not disturb them and give them a wide berth. They are not normally aggressive towards humans, but they do have large teeth and can deliver a serious bite. We should always respect our wildlife and admire them from a safe distance. If you find a sick or injured harbor seal, please call the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation (631)-369-9840.  This foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to rescue, rehabilitation and release of marine animals in the Long Island region. It is the only marine mammal and turtle rescue in New York.

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