Daily Archives: March 26, 2013

This Year’s Visit to the Swinburne Island Seals

By Vladimir Brezina

Last week’s excitement about the East River Dolphin reminded us that we hadn’t seen our old friends, the Swinburne Island seals, in almost a year, since last April in fact. So on Sunday we paddled down to visit them again.

We paddled up to Swinburne Island in what we hoped was a stealthy manner, cameras at the ready.

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Unfortunately, with the morning’s forecast of significant winds and, presumably, waves and spray—which in the event did not materialize—I left my non-waterproof DSLR, with its telephoto lens, at home. So both of us were limited to our little waterproof cameras—not really suitable for capturing the details of distant seal heads in the water.

And soon there were heads popping up all around, peering at us with a cautious curiosity. Now and then one advanced daringly close, then immediately crash-dived with a snort and a loud splash.

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If you look at the photo above closely (click on it to enlarge), it shows seven seal heads. Altogether, by counting the number visible simultaneously or nearly simultaneously all around, we estimated that there were at least 15 seals around us, although there could well have been many more. There were a few small seals, presumably babies.

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As usual, the seals preferred to observe us without being themselves observed. They popped up directly behind our boats and peered at us intently, then immediately dived as soon as we turned around.

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As the seals heads rose out of the water in upredictable locations around us for a few seconds before disappearing again, we snapped away in the hope of capturing the decisive moment.

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And indeed, in some shots, when we later examined them at home, there were seals in places where we had not even noticed them at the time…

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Swinburne Island itself, although clearly hospitable to seals and seabirds, seemed more desolate than on our previous visits, even more empty of the ruins and dead trees that had covered it, probably as a result of the visit of Hurricane Sandy back in October of last year.

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Then it was time for some tea on the water, if possible out of the cold wind. We considered rafting up in the lee of Swinburne Island itself, but it was clear that hundreds of gulls would seriously object. We ended up having our tea off the neighboring island, Hoffman, where the local opposition was less intense.

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After tea, with the current now turned in our favor, we paddled back to the Verrazano Narrows on our way home.

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And, in the shadow of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Nature had a final bonus ready for us—a porpoise (or perhaps another dolphin), calmly surfacing, arching its back, diving again…

It was in almost exactly the same spot where we had observed another porpoise two years ago, in late March 2011. Come to think of it, that previous sighting was the subject of the very first post on Wind Against Current :-)

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Together with the sighting of the dolphins and seals in the East River last week, it’s hard not to feel that marine mammals are really coming back to New York Harbor!

Next up, I believe we are ready to encounter at least a  medium-sized whale…