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Seals in New York City

Fun fact I discovered  over at Wind Against the Current: there are seals living in New York Harbor. I lived in NY for about 15 years and I never saw any. But then I left too soon. People began seeing harbor seals wintering on Swinburne and Hoffman Islands in Lower NY Bay in 2001. I was long gone by then.

To be honest I’d never heard of these two islands before I read the post. And for good reason. They’re tiny. They lie about half-way between Coney Island to the east and Staten Island to the west. Why would anyone care about two itty bitty man-made islands that are off-limits to humans, especially when the bright lights of Coney and Staten are there turning your head? (See map above for reference.)

Apparently, the water in the Hudson River and elsewhere has been cleaned up enough that fish  are returning to the area, specifically the kind that seals eat. According to nature’s mandate, whither goes the food, so doth the eater of the food. Local expert, Paul Sieswerda, says the population of harbor seals has been expanding southward from the Massachusetts area for a while. That’s one advantage of losing all those manufacturing jobs: less pollution, more nature.

The seals are here for only part of the year, though. They prefer to move to cooler water north during the summer. Makes me wonder if climate change will eventually have an effect and move them back out of the area permanently. Guess we’ll find out. In the meantime, I think it’s wonderful that nature is able to chase its mandate in the waters of the Big Apple.

Sue Lange


5 thoughts on “Seals in New York City

  1. Thanks so much. I have to say, seals in the water look exactly like otters. Hard to get the size perspective. Wonderful pictures of NYC from the water. I’m envious of your experience!

  2. On February 15 I spotted a large seal off City Island while kayaking. The solo seal was swimming from shore towards Harts Island and I spotted him as I paddled past the dock that houses the Harts Island Ferry. The seal was at a 10 O’clock position from the bow of my boat and didn’t see me… at first. I initially though it was a large dog that may have fallen into the water and got disorientated. All I could see was this huge head and a small part of its back. The head actually looked like a huge groundhog. My baffling thoughts lasted about 2 seconds before the wary seal spotted me and made a quick, but silent dive. I spotted the rear flippers and knew it was a seal. I have no idea what kind of seal, but it was large 5-6′ I estimated, and it was grey in color. I went to a birthday party the following day and told a bird watcher pal about my seal sighting and he laughed. That very morning he had spotted 7 seals sunning themselves on Chimmney Sweeps rocks directly across from Orchard Beach.
    Today I set out to photograph these mysterious creatures and paddled out of The City Island Touring Kayak club at 8am. It was a chilly 37 degrees, but the water was quite placid. I first checked the area of my previous sighting and was disappointed. I continued to search every rocky island in this part of LI Sound including Chimmney Sweeps Rocks. I didn’t see any seals, but got a decent workout. I came home and googled seal sightings in this area and came upon this site. Bronx Boys are wild over unlikely animal sightings, so I had to share my rather long winded tale. 🙂

  3. That is so cool, Mike. Thanks for sharing this. I hope you keep trying to photograph them and do post a URL if you end up getting some nice photos of this. Looks like I left Manhattan too soon. Would love to get over there and see some of this stuff. My SO is a Bronx boy; I’ll tell him about the seals at Orchard Beach. He’ll love it. We may be making a safari to New York City soon.

    Thanks for the info!

    • Hi Sue,
      Thanks for the nice reply to my “Seal tale.” If I ever do get a nice photo of one I will definitely post it.

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