A Sight to Behold
Colony of Gray Seals
On a recent trip to North Truro, Massachusetts, I biked a path out to High End Beach which is on the Atlantic side of the Outer Cape. It’s a beautiful secluded glacial sand dune with miles and miles of continuous sand beaches. The ever-changing sand bars running along the beach have attracted not only swimmers but 100’s of Gray Seals. At first I didn’t recognize the large colony of seals from a distance. They looked like shiny black stones. I walked along the beach to hear a cacophony of low constant moans, and an occasional rare high-pitched call from the mammals. I continued walking closer and began to see constant, but slow, motion as they moved here and there, re-positioning themselves next to each other. The sheer, yet up close, reality of 400 seals resting on the sand bar was amazing. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Where Gray Seals hang out, sharks aren’t far away. Reports of the Great Whites were being broadcasted on the news a couple of days later. On July 9th, Nauset Beach closed. A great white shark was spotted by shark spotters 10 to 15 ft off shore. Chatham reported 3 not as close to shore but they are there. The warnings go out quickly to the public.
Gray Seals (Halichoerus grypus) resting at low tide.
The Gray Seal
The size of the seals surprised me. Characteristically the males are larger than females, approximately 660 to 1000 lbs. and measuring 7 to 8 ft. in length. Typically darker in color, they can be black, brown, or gray with darker spots. The females have a tan or lighter gray background with dark spots. Whether male or female their most outstanding feature is their head which is often said to resemble a horse because of its long sloping profile. I’m not so sure I see this as I think horses have a distinct head. Another interesting fact is seals have a pecking order. The big blubbery males beach on the inner most part forming the core of the group. Next will be the females, and on the periphery are the young. Does this make the young most vulnerable?
Gray Seal resting on sand bar in Truro, Cape Cod.
How to Enjoy Seals
1. Never get in the water with seals. They are constantly on the lookout for predators and may perceive you as one. They are wild animals and can be extremely dangerous if they feel threatened. They may become aggressive in order to defend themselves.
2. Stay at least 50 yards away (150 ft) from resting seals. They need to rest and that is why they are on the sand bars at low tide.
3. Be quiet. Noise can effect seals. Limit your viewing time to no longer than 30 minutes. Your continued presence can cause them unnecessary stress.
4. Do not kayak or canoe near seals. Engineless crafts have been shown to elicit an alarm response causing seals to rapidly enter the water. Remember they are resting.
The Seals of Truro surely do have my Seal of Approval.
I felt privileged to have viewed them, even if only for a short time. The sheer numbers and startling up-closeness was greater than anything I’ve ever seen on a nature channel. They have made a lasting impression on me which I’ll never forget.
By Jane Ogilvie
Green Mountain Photos