Thank goodness for the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which passed way back in 1972. Before then, harbor seals were killed simply because they competed with the fish stock for humans. Now, thanks to MMPA, they’re coming back, feasting on herring and hanging out at tiny Swinburne Island and Hoffman Island just off the Verrazano Bridge between Brooklyn and Staten Island.
Princess Cruises runs winter weekend trips to these man-made islands, which were built back in the 1800s to house sick immigrants. It’s a bit of a haul to get to Riis Point near Rockaway Beach (a car is basically essential), but well worth the $25, especially if, like me, you love to see wild seals frolicking within distance of the Statue of Liberty and one of the world’s most human-filled areas. The side bonus to going on one of these cruises is that they support data collection on the local seal population, allowing naturalist (and seal enthusiast) Paul Sieswerda to keep track of how the pinnipeds are doing (which include not just harbor seals, but also grey, ringed, harp and hooded seals).
The risk, though, is you have no idea how many seals you will see — nor whether they’ll be hauled out for a full-body view or swimming and bobbing up and down in the distance, watching you watching them. While we saw a lot of seals today (or so it seemed like) most were very far away. Still, I got a few good shots thanks to my extreme zoom lens.