March can be a downright brutal month on Long Island. The nor’easter that rolled through yesterday has us all wishing that Spring would hurry up and get here already. But you know who likes Long Island in March? Seals. For seals, this is the peak month for them to bask on the shores of Long Island. And they pretty much have it all to themselves.
We had no idea that our home was such a popular place for seals. We never go to the shore during the winter months, which is when the seals come as they follow their food source. Seals migrate to Long Island from November through April, and March is one of the best months for seal-spotting around here. We got our first look at seals in the wild last spring during a day trip to Montauk Point State Park.
Our day trip to the Montauk Point Lighthouse and trails came about when we were given the opportunity to test drive a car. We needed someplace to drive to that wasn’t very far, and we’d never taken the kids to the lighthouse. So a day trip was born. And, in looking up other things to see or do in Montauk, we came across the seal haulout trail. It was exciting to think that we’d be able to see seals in the wild so close to home.
We called about the guided trail hikes that are run by the state park and found out those were usually scheduled on the weekend. We were heading up during a school break. Our little family of four didn’t justify booking a private weekday outing. But, the lady I spoke to informed me we could easily locate the trail and walk out to the seal haul out point on our own.
Why is it called a “haulout”? I thought “seal watching trail” might be a better name. Well, “haulout” is the term they use when creatures who typically spend their time in the water haul themselves out on to land or rocks for a time. Seals, sea lions, and walruses all do this. And a location where this occurs is called a “haulout”. Now you know.
Armed with this information, we journeyed to the east end of the island we call home. It’s a cool place with great scenery, even in late winter/early spring. Climbing over the rocks along the shore near the lighthouse would prove to be more challenging than the 1 mile hike to see the seals a bit later that afternoon.
According to the map, we could have hiked from the lighthouse to the seal haul out. It’s less than 2 miles. However, that would have meant hiking all the way back, as well. So, we drove down the road a short way to catch the shortest part of the trail. It probably only shortened our total hike by about a mile.
As I said, the hiking was about as easy I imagine hiking can get. The kids had fun crossing the little bridges here and there and following the path. It was too early in the spring for the forest to be dense. That made it easy to keep track of the kids if they went too far ahead. Signs and markings made the trails easy to follow. It was a great first family hiking experience, which would lead to more. (You can read about our impromptu hike up the Sleeping Giant Mountain)
As we neared the shore, the path became sandy and soon we could see the bluff overlooking the water. A sign told us we had arrived and went over the rules of the haulout area.
I expected to see a seal or two at most. And at first, I wasn’t sure I saw any. This was partly because I was looking for them right on the beach. The other reason was because they blend into the rocks. So imagine my surprise when we realized there were dozens of seals on the rocks out in the water.
Armed with a pair of binoculars I picked up at Target and my camera’s telephoto lens, we were able to get a good look at the seals basking on the rocks further out.
Most of the seals we saw were lying still on the rocks, sunbathing. But a number of seals were swimming in the water, occasionally hauling themselves out onto a rock for some sun.
Having a knowledgeable guide to point out the different types of seals would have been an added bonus. But, we did find information posted at the overlook with facts about seals. We read about the journey the seals make from up north, the types of seals we might see, and other places around Long Island that we can see them.
Again, It amazed me that there were so many “hot spots” to see seals right here on Long Island. Some might require having a boat or paying to hop on a sight-seeing tour. But, there are several areas like this where you can simply walk down to the shoreline.
It’s a great way to spend a few hours of your day, if the weather is cooperating. The fresh air and exercise alone are worth it. If you can leave the phones and tablets behind, even better. But most of all, seeing these creatures outside of the confinement of a zoo or aquarium reminds us that we share this planet with them. And I think just understanding that makes us better people.