We began getting e-mails Wednesday night about a great big seal lazily basking in the sun on the docks of the Miramar Yacht Club. The seal, about five feet long, had been there all day, and didn’t seem the slightest bit perturbed by the presence of papparazi-like club members. The next morning, the seal was still there, but, unfortunately, he returned to the waters and made his way out to sea just minutes before Sheepshead Bites arrived with cameras.
Perhaps he worried that if he lingered too long on the Miramar docks, he’d be asked to pay membership dues.
Anthony, a long time clubmember, said he’d never seen a seal in the waters of Sheepshead Bay. But apparently boaters were reporting back to the club that a pod of the pinnipeds have been playing around the mouth of the bay for the past two days.
Though it’s the first time in recent history seals have been spotted anywhere near Sheepshead Bay, the waters of Jamaica Bay have seen a striking return of harbor seals in the past five years. Kayakers and recreational boaters began reporting their presence around the Verrazano Bridge back in 2006.
Investigators from Kingsborough Community College’s Maritime Studies program and the New York Aquarium launched the first annual harbor seal survey following those reports.
That year, they counted 10. Over the next years, they spotted nine, then eight. In 2009, though, the numbers shot up to 20, with the colonies basking on the rocks of Swinburne and Hoffman Islands near the bridge.
The numbers are on the rise thanks to cleaner water and the return of fish populations, according to New York Aquarium curator Paul Sieswerda.
Seals were a mainstay of New York Harbor over 100 years ago. But fishermen back in the day got tired of competing for the same fish, and harbor seals were soon hunted for reward.
With laws protecting the seals, that’s unlikely to happen again. We’re hoping the seals become a more common sight in our waters, and that next time, they’re not so dodgy of Sheepshead Bites’ cameras.