The Last Seal of Winter

By Vladimir Brezina

We saw plenty of wildlife—dolphins, turtles, sharks, birds—last month in Florida. But no seals.

So yesterday we paddled down to Swinburne Island, where seals have never yet failed us, during the winter months. But spring is now, finally, upon us, with temperatures warming dramatically—time for the seals to return north, to their summer homes in Maine and Canada. We may have left it too late…

We paddled around Swinburne a couple of times, sat and scanned the water, waited expectantly… Nothing.

Then, just as we were about to leave, a lone seal head popped up.

The last seal of winter…

IMGP4746 cropped small

But quite apart from the seal, it was a great paddle through New York Harbor. Here are some photos (click on any photo to start slideshow):

43 responses to “The Last Seal of Winter

  1. Oh, it’s as if he/she didn’t want you to be disappointed. :)


  2. Great post, great shot of the last seal. :-)


  3. Great slide show – thanks Vladimir.


  4. Fantastic story board. Such a familiar skyline yet it’s amazing to think of you out there!


  5. When I think of NYC, I don’t usually think of kayakers – but you all rock! Great slide show. Glad you got to see that seal. A friend of ours in DE (our home state) saw one in a small inlet there about three weeks ago. That was an uncommon sighting for that area. Hope you continue to enjoy your urban paddling adventures. I always enjoy the pictures.


    • Nowadays, there are probably more kayakers than seals in New York Harbor… ;-)

      Seals used to be common around New York, but then stopped coming, probably because of pollution, boat traffic, and general human disturbance. Now they are coming back, and many are seen in the Lower Bay, in particular, every winter.

      But yes, this part of the coast—NY, NJ, DE—is probably the southernmost part of their range. Further south, the water is just too warm.


  6. I happened across a seal, up close and intimate, three days running while paddling off Pensacola Beach in 1995, seeing it/them clearly in locations several miles apart. Even watched one for over ten minutes, clearly visible above and below water from the 8th-floor terrace of our rented condo, hunting inside the closest sand bar to the beach. Then Hurricane Opel shut down paddling.

    Before heading home, I visited Gulf Islands National Seashore HQ to find out which seals are found in the Gulf. The ranger grabbed a book and showed me pics of nutria, beaver, and muskrats. “Did it look like this? How about this one? What about this?” She told me there are no seals in the Gulf of Mexico. The last Caribbean Monk Seal sighting occurred in 1952.

    I SAW A SEAL!!!! I put inquiries on the Net and a local zoo person said seals sometimes escape from places like the Gulfarium, which had since shut down after being damaged in Hurricane Opal. Then I got inquiries from the Monk Seal Professor at the University of Hawaii, who was VERY interested. Two years later, I got another email from Hawaii asking what more I’d learned about my seal sighting. I hadn’t even been back to Pensacola.

    Some years after I related the story online in response to some Houston-area paddler’s question about sightings of alligators vs crocodiles, I googled my own name and stumbled across those three paragraphs cited word-for-word in the Menachus Guardian, the quarterly publication for Monk Seal enthusiasts worldwide. I’m apparently the foremost published author on sightings of Caribbean Monk Seals (officially declared extinct in 2008) over the past half century.

    So if anyone has questions, . . . yeh, sure.


  7. Beautiful shots as always.


  8. Sweet as a Picture

    Love the photos! I think it’s really cool to see a seal. Didn’t know they could be spotted in NY waters. I always learn something new here! Thanks! :-)


    • Seals, dolphins, porpoises, whales—all are visiting New York Harbor more and more frequently. In fact, our very first post on Wind Against Current, almost three years ago, was about them… :-)


      • Johna Till Johnson

        Vlad, I just noticed something–in our post from 2011, Swinburne Island has actual buildings, but this time around, they were mostly ruins. Was that the result of Sandy?


        • The substance of the building is still mostly there, but the roof has collapsed and is lying flat on the ground. And of course some of it has gone entirely. Sandy must have done a lot of that, but also other storms before and since. Each year, more is gone…


      • Sweet as a Picture

        I think that’s awesome! Thanks for the link. I’m off to read it now. :-)


  9. wow ! Fabulous pictures. Thank you!


  10. Attractive & intriguing yellow buoy, evidently marks Bay Ridge Flats in conjunction with A. The chart has no B. Curiosity hard to stifle as to why no photo of A. Was it too far from your course, or otherwise less photogenic?


    • Presumably once upon a time there were yellow buoys A, B, and C (like in Gravesend Bay, south of the Narrows), and B has been discontinued. Actually, it would be useful to have it, for kayakers at least :-)

      We don’t often go past buoy A—too far to the east.


  11. …..and that, my dears, puts a seal on that!
    Beautiful here in Ireland today; perfect for messing about on the river.
    Lovely pictures, Vladimir; my favourite:- Sparkling Silhouette.


  12. After seeing soo many excellent shots and views from your kayaks I am finally going to attempt to try out kayaking this summer here in LA…. they have a couple of places to rent pretty close to where I live. Glad you saw a seal !


  13. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words

    What great photos ou always take…
    Thank you for sharing them with us
    Take Care…You Matter…


  14. Liked going along for the adventure… Way different than the paddling out here in the Northwest! Have you considered any trips West?


  15. We Northerners await the seals!


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