Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Seals - Right Here in New York Harbor!

I just have to point out a new link on my "Hudson Tides & Weather" blogroll - just added a link to a site giving a clear, concise set of guidelines for viewing marine mammals. This is due to a very neat development - seems that New York City kayaking types may eventually find themselves needing to familiarize themselves with the Marine Mammals Protection Act, as it seems that seals have begun to decide that our city is sort of OK (she said while crossing ALL of her fingers and toes and her eyes, too).

As the river's been getting healthier, there have been more & more sightings of seals in the area. There have been seal sightings for the last few years down at Swinburne and Hoffman Islands, a bit south of the Verranzano Narrows Bridge. The Verranzano Narrows is where the less sheltered, more open water of the Lower Harbor meet the more confined & heavily trafficked spaces of the Upper Harbor. Hoffman and Swinburne are uninhabited, so made perfect winter haul-outs where the shy harbor seals can mostly be left alone (except for the pesky kayakers who would go down hoping for a glimpse). Apparently, though, the seals are getting a little bolder. The cleaner the waters around the piers & docks of Manhattan have gotten, the more the pilings beneath those piers have come provide a home for a wide variety of fish - seals like fish - no reason for seals not to come up & get them some fresh Manhattan sushi. And evidently, they are.

The first sighting I heard about was from TG - the guy who likes to tow things. He posted a very neat account on NYCKayaker; he was out for an early morning paddle, the seal was out for an early morning swim, and they didn't notice each other until they were quite close. Really, you just don't expect to run into a seal off the Holland Tunnel ventilator shaft. Sounded like there was a moment when both seal & paddler were thinking a very startled "Holy cow, that's not a...ohmigod, it is!".

Then on our paddle on Saturday, there were a batch of bystanders watching the DTBH set launch - there had been more seal sighting over the week, one was checking out a model boat regatta, another was hauled out on the River Project pier, and there'd been photos in the paper, so people were coming down to the river hoping to see them. All the attention may well have sent the animals back out to their private resorts on Hoffman and Swinburne - but I remember paddling to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay when my friend & mentor RCS & I had gone there for our Instructor Development Workshop with Eskape Sea Kayak Tours (he went back for certification, I just went for the training half 'cause I was still pretty green at the time - but it was a great experience) and having a curious harbor seal follow me for quite a ways, popping his or her head up out of the water & watching me with those big misty-looking eyes. So it does not seem improbable that if these New York Harbor visitors are treated well & with respect by us locals, they may eventually be as common a sight as they are in San Francisco Bay.

Can't hurt to brush up on these guidelines. I can dream, right? Now I do wonder what you do if you come back from a paddle & find a seal has hauled out & is having a nice snooze on your dock. Is it an infraction of the Marine Mammal Protection Act if you eventually politely ask it to leave so you can land? Or does that constitute harassment? Hmmm.

Actually the new docks & get-downs in the Hudson River Park are all going to have seal exclusion gates precisely to minimize the chances of that sort of human-seal interaction. Army Corps of Engineers rules, I think.

Me - I have a feeling that in the unlikely event that I EVER get back to my home pier & find it occupied by a seal, I'd just sit there & watch it as long as it wanted to stay there. Probably holding my breath the whole time for fear of scaring it away. Then I'd fly home & write the most excited post ever.

No comments: