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Manhattanhenge by Neil deGrasse Tyson. 

Editor’s note: Please accept my apologies that some editing and link work must be redone due to a wifi interruption and WordPress/Word glitch. It will be done tonight, but for now you can see the events and most of the needed information.

 

 

ALERT! Break out the “sacrificial” champagne. It’s time for Manhattanhenge! Come see the sun set through the grid of Manhattan as in this photo by astrophysicist and Hayden Planetarium director Neil deGrasse Tyson. Both Thursday and Friday nights are good for this little wonder. Major cross streets like 42nd and 57th are especially good for viewing if you are on the East Side, in Queens or Brooklyn, or on the East River.

 

And now, looking to the week ahead, we have lots of other FREE stuff to do in nature in the city! Seining and cycling, paddling and gardening, birding and stargazing!

 

FRIDAY, MAY 30

 

BIKING, MANHATTAN

What can I say? It’s Critical Mass! Celebrate bicycles for their promise of a cleaner and safer city, and remind drivers through a great, peaceful, and friendly presence that the roads are public and to be shared.

Gather up at 7PM in Union Square. The ride concludes at about 10PM and the route is not determined.

ASTRONOMY, MANHATTAN

 

Come see Mars, Saturn, and the Summer Triangle with dedicated members of the Amateur Astronomers Association from dusk until 10PM at Carl Schurz Park esplanade in Manhattan (where East 86th Street meets the water). If you have a telescope, bring it!

Contact Rik Davis for more information at 646-873-0252.

 

BIKING AND WALKING, BROOKLYN

Be an assuring presence on two wheels for fellow New Yorkers making their way home with SafeWalk, a program of RightRides for Women’s Safety. The program provides the protection of companionship to all, because simply not walking alone is a strong defense from muggings, sexual assault, and hate crimes. All you and other volunteer team members need to do is bike to the location of a caller and walk that person to a destination within a 10-15 block radius. Right now coverage includes the hours of 11PM-2AM and the neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and downtown Brooklyn.

Sign up as a volunteer and get an orientation by emailing safewalknyc@gmail.com. And if you need this service, don’t hesitate to call 866-977-9255 (walk)

 

SATURDAY, MAY 31

BIRDING, BROOKLYN

Roll out of bed and roll down the road (I always recommend biking) to the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park, Brooklyn by 8AM to see a wide variety of upland and estuary birds. The Urban Park Rangers will teach you the basics…starting with the fact that no matter how good you get, birding will always involve an amount of early rising! But the rewards of open trails, fascinating creatures, and time to gather your thoughts is worth the initial bleariness. The center is at East 33rd Street and Avenue U. Call 718-421-2021 for more information.

 

BIKING, QUEENS

The increasingly interconnected greenways of New York City include some gorgeous vistas, like the western Long Island Sound. Get to know the Little Neck Bay section (and Fort Totten and Little Bay Park) and while you’re at it, join Transportation Alternatives in lobbying for full bike access across the East River’s bridges linking Queens to the Bronx!

Meet up is at 10AM, at the Cryders Lane entrance of Little Bay Park.

 

SOLAR OBSERVING, MANHATTAN

You’re “not the only one, staring at the sun”…At least you won’t be on Saturday morning from 10AM until noon in Central Park, at the model sailboat-filled Conservatory Water (enter at 5th Avenue and 72nd Street). The Amateur Astronomers Association would like you to safely (approved filters) look at the surface of the sun, and learn about this average yet precious star. And while you’re there, check out the red-tailed hawk, Pale Male!

If you’re bitten by the astronomy bug, join the friendly stargazers at their 1PM meeting: 1 PM, AA HQ (1010 Park Avenue, at 85th Street). Call Rik Davis for more information: 646-873-0252

  

BIKING, MANHATTAN 

Teach your child how to bike and take in old growth forests in a single outing by heading up to the Inwood Hill Park Nature Center at 10AM. The event lasts until 1PM.

You’ll need to pre-register for this effective no-pedal instruction method (see this video to learn more) by calling 311 or visiting this page.

 

CHILDREN AND NATURE, MANHATTAN


We expect our kids to pick up languages fast, and to know how to make our newest gadgets work. Imagine what they could do as the family’s naturalists! Bring `em out to
Highbridge Park where kids 4-12 years old can learn about seeds (how they spread, why they are so important to plants and animals) on Saturday afternoon, from 2PM until 330PM. You must accompany your child to the Tower Terrace (enter the park at East 172 St. or East 174 St. and walk to the water) and register for the class with Linda Huntington by calling her at 212-795-1388 or emailing linda.huntington@parks.nyc.gov.

 
 

 

HIKE, MANHATTAN

 

Nature loves the edges of things. Life is most abundant at the shorelines (both above and under water) and the forest’s edge. The same goes for night and day – the action picks up at dusk and dawn, with crepuscular creatures busy at work. Enjoy the show as a hiker through Central Park’s North Woods. Bring a flashlight and meet at Belvedere Castle (midway through the park along 79th Street) at 730PM.

 

GARDENING AND WILDFLOWERS, STATEN ISLAND

Despite its pivotal role in Revolutionary War history, Conference House Park has fallen to insidious invaders! The mugwort isn’t coming, it’s already set in roots! Ditto for other invasive plants and trees that threaten indigenous trees and shrubs. In the process you’ll learn about the wildflowers now in bloom.

Come down for an afternoon of purposeful exercise at 2PM – water, gloves, and tools provided. Volunteers will gather at the visitors’ center at the intersection of Hylan Boulevard and Satterlee Street. To register and for directions by car, bike, train, and bus, contact Cheri Brunault at 718-390-8021 or by emailing cheri.brunault@parks.nyc.gov.

 

TREE WALK, BRONX


Learn your trees with the experts at Van Cortlandt Park (
246th Street and Broadway). Gather at 11AM at the western entrance, wear comfortable shoes, and enjoy an unhurried time in the greenery. Call 718-548-0912 for details.

 ROWING – BRONX

Row with Rocking the Boat!

Explore the vibrant Bronx River in a beautifully handcrafted rowboat with Rocking the Boat. Community rowing hours are 1PM-5PM at the Jose E Serrano Riverside Campus for Arts and The Environment.

 

 

 

SUNDAY, JUNE 1

 

BIRDING WALK, BROOKLYN

 

Prospect Park is rich in bird diversity, and the Brooklyn Bird Club want to take you right up to the “front doors” of their often-hidden nests! Pay a happy visit to our avian neighbors, many of whom now have young in their nests, by meeting up with the group at 8AM at the Audubon Center (Lincoln Road and Ocean Avenue entrance) for the two-hour walk. Call 718-287-3400 for more information.

 

BIRDING WALK, STATEN ISLAND

 

You can’t go wrong birding in a place named for one of the more beautiful species. Urban Park Rangers will teach you how to get started in birding while in none other than Blue Heron Park Preserve (222 Poillon Avenue between Amboy Road Hylan Boulevard). Join them at 9AM, and call ahead with questions – 718-967-3542 

CANOEING, BRONX

 

Come paddle with the Urban Park Rangers in the lagoon of New York City’s largest park, Pelham Bay Park. Kids eights years old and up and adults can explore and inhabit this lesser-known idyll starting at 10AM. The launch is at the NW corner of the Orchard Beach parking lot. To register, call 718-885-3467

. Registration is rolling until filled.
 
 

 

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN

 

Try out kayaking with 20-minute introductory paddles (running between 10AM and 5PM) on the Hudson River south of 72nd Street. Please dress for getting wet and know how to swim. Call the Downtown Boathouse for weather updates at 646-613-0740 and further information at 212-408-0219.

 

KAYAKING, QUEENS

 

Try out kayaking with 20-minute introductory paddles (running between 1PM and 5PM) arranged by the LIC Community Boathouse on the East River where Vernon Boulevard meets 31st Avenue in Astoria. You’ll see Socrates Sculpture Park’s beach at Hallets Cove and a wooden staircase on a wall. Please dress for getting wet and know how to swim.

 

MARINE BIOLOGY, BROOKLYN

 

See “What Lurks Beneath” the Gerritsen Creek with naturalists at the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park, Brooklyn (East 33rd Street and Avenue U). Meet up at 11AM, and start netting wet wildlife. For more information call 718-421-2021

 

BUTTERFLY WALK, MANHATTAN

Meet up at the 106th and 5th Ave. entrance into Central Park at 11AM for an exploration of local butterflies and moths. Call 212-860-1376 for more information.

FLOWER WALK, MANHATTAN

Fort Tryon is worth the visit for its amazing heather garden alone. But poke around for other delightful blooms in the Alpine Garden and other areas with expert horticulturalists. Not to mention the Hudson River views from on high! Meet at 1PM for the 90-minute walk and talk, starting at the Margaret Corbin Circle, Fort Tryon Park (Cabrini Boulevard and Fort Washington Avenue).

 

NATURE WALK, BROOKLYN

 

Each Saturday and Sunday you’re welcome to stroll along for an hour to see the wildlife of Prospect Park. Meets at 3PM at the Audubon Center.

 

CAMPING 101, MANHATTAN

Learn the basics of camping in Manhattan, of all places! Come to the Inwood Hill Nature Center at 2PM by entering the Inwood Hill Park at West 218th Street and Indian Road. For more information, call 212-304-2365.

 

TUESDAY, JUNE 3

 

While the rest of the nation is trying to discern what motivations lurk beneath the surface of politicians, you can be discovering what wondrous life is thriving in beneath the surface of the western Long Island Sound. Orchard Beach is apparently the place to see and be seined these days (okay, I’m sorry). Come to the Orchard Beach Nature Center at Pelham Bay Park at 3PM. For more information call 718-885-3466

.
 
 

 

 

ASTRONOMY, BROOKLYN

 

Saturn hasn’t been gentrified yet, though Mars night cave as quickly as Brooklyn one day. Just kidding…sorta. But come see both, and the Summer Triangle, with the generous Amateur Astronomy Association. They love sharing their joy in cosmic appreciation, so come along! Meet at 10PM at the war memorial on Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn Heights, across from the Park Plaza Restaurant. For more information, email cadman@aaa.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sand tiger shark. Photo by J.L. Maher/WCS

 

 

Editor’s note: Yes, there are sharks swimming wild in New York City’s open waters! It took tremendous discipline to hold back this fantabulous Nature Community item by Paul Sieswerda, animal curator of the New York Aquarium (and a rare fellow Frisian New Yorker). But now you have it, for the first weekend of NYC’s public beach swimming season!

 

One sad note is that in the time between his writing and today, the aquarium’s longest-lived shark passed away. Bertha, a sand tiger shark photographed here by J.L. Maher of the Wildlife Conservation Society, was caught off the coast of Coney Island and lived at the aquarium for 43 years. Her species is so common in the New York Bight that the aquarium has traded young ones for others species from around the world. I had a kayaking encounter with another species of shark near the Narrows a few years back, but that tale will wait for another day.

 

 

“Sharks and the City”

 

By Paul Sieswerda

 

As Curator at a public aquarium, I am often above, in, or under the ocean’s surface and I think that I’m not alone in having brief shivers when the thought of what sea creatures may be eying my activities passes through my mind.  It’s just a flash of trepidation and doesn’t slow me down, but I have to admit to it. 

 

Sharks, of course, are prominent on that list of imagery and probably somewhat realistic in tropical waters. But in New York?  You’re right, that’s crazy. 

 

However…

 

The Chamber of Commerce may not like to publicize it, but the waters around New York are full of sharks.  Fortunately, the species are not man-eaters or dangerous, but sharks are plentiful and varied.  It should be stated however, that one of the most horrific episodes in shark attack history took place very close by.  In 1916, four fatal attacks took place along the New Jersey coast within the first twelve days of July, in Beach Haven and  Spring Lake, and miles inland, in Matawan Creek. Another victim was also attacked in Matawan, but survived with the loss of a leg.  That history changed the world’s image of sharks when Peter Benchley popularized the factual story in the book, Jaws.  Of course, the movie seared the fear of shark attacks further into the psyche of a worldwide population. The fishing fleet off Montauk catches enough monster sharks to keep the impression in the back of most New Yorkers’ minds.  However, experience settles those fears for New York swimmers since the chance of a shark attack ranks about in the same neighborhood as the risks as from asteroids.

 

Our native sharks are benign to humans.  Local species are fish eaters like the sand tiger shark or scavengers like the smooth dogfish.  There are sandbar sharks as well cruising off Coney Island beach.  These sharks are happy to hunt fish and leave humans completely alone.   In fact, sand tiger sharks and sand bar sharks rarely take bait from fishermen, so they are not often caught on hook and line.  The dogfish are another story, and many striper fishermen are disappointed to pull in a dogfish instead of a fat striper.

 

Sand tiger shark. Photo by J.L. Maher/WCS

 

Sand tiger shark, Carcharias taurus

The New York Aquarium has a number of sand tiger sharks on display.  One specimen lived in the collection over 40 years.  How long do they live? The shark in the photo, Bertha, was the longest living shark recorded at an aquarium and it was probably a couple of years old when it was captured.  Since then, the Aquarium has supplied itself and other institutions with sand tiger sharks.  Local fishermen catch them in their nets and notify the Aquarium.  Since these sharks are usually small they can be transported fairly easily.  Some have been sent as far away as Japan.  A “pupping”  ground seems to be along the southern coast of Long Island.  Young sand tigers are caught each year incidental to the fishermen’s target species.

 

            First Come, First Served

Sand tigers have a strange method of development. The embryos practice hunting within the mother!  This cannibalism before birth is called oophagy.

 

Eggs are produced in the shark mother’s two uterine tracks, one after another.  As the first egg develops into an embryonic shark, it eats the next developing embryo.  This continues until the birth of the two babies that have grown in each uterus.  They grow strong feeding on their potential siblings.  At birth, the young sand tiger sharks are forty inches (100 cm.) in length, and completely ready to hunt on their own.                                              From : Sharks by P. Sieswerda

 

The adult sand tigers are usually about seven feet in length.  They have two equal sized dorsal fins set at the rear half of the body.  The nose is pointed and often upturned.  The most prominent feature are the teeth that Richard Ellis, author and naturalist, calls the “wickedest-looking teeth in all of sharkdom.” 

 

These teeth, however, indicate that they are fish eaters and not prone to take bites out of large animals (species that do are a real danger to humans). Although they look ferocious, sand tigers have adapted a mouthful of fangs that are designed to effectively grasp slippery fish. Most sharks must continually swim at a speed that gives them lift, but sand tigers are able to keep from sinking by holding a gulp of surface air internally, allowing them to cruise at slow speed and save energy for quick lunges that catch their prey unaware. In aquariums, it was found that sand tigers needed a minimum depth in their tanks, not for any space requirement, but to allow them enough distance to launch themselves above the surface to gulp air.

 

 

Most New Yorkers will not see sand tiger sharks except at the New York Aquarium, but it may be interesting to know that when gazing out from a Brooklyn or Long Island beach, or even sharing the surf, there are sizeable sharks out there playing out their lives, with little threat to people and deserving only the slightest twinge of fear. Knowing the facts is comforting, but I think it’s human to worry a little.

 

Or is it just me? 

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Black crappie. Credit NYC DEC. 

by Erik Baard

 

This unfortunately named cousin of more celebrated sunfishes might want you to know that its name is derived from “crapet,” a word in the Quebecois dialect of French referring to species of the family Centrarchidae.

 

If I had my way, I’d just entirely rename the species as black scrappie, because you can’t have more moxie than this: one of its chief foods is the young of its own predators, such as northern pike and walleye. That’s right, “You gonna try’n eat me? Well, watch me eat your baby first!”

 

They also eat insects, crustaceans, and zooplankton.

 

If you plan to feast on crappies (apparently that’s more delicious than it sounds), you’ll have to venture outside of NYC. While Kissena Lake, Wolfe’s Pond, Silver Lake, Clove Lake, Prospect Park Lake, Van Cortlandt Lake, and other local freshwater bodies abound with this species, they are governed by “no kill,” catch and release policies. Use either plastic lures or live minnows, and seasoned anglers recommend “spider rigging,” that is arraying fishing poles in a spoke pattern from a single spot. Specialized hooks prevent damage to the fish.

 

Enjoy discovering this crepuscular species (seen in a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation image above) at dawn or dusk when they emerge from marsh grass areas, weed beds, or from under sunken logs and rocky ledges. They’re active all year long, even under a cover of ice (ice fishers love them), but start congregating and spawning in vegetative beds when temperatures reach over 60 degrees Fahrenheit. That means this is a prime time to reel in a crappie. 

 

And remember, no laughing at their name. At least not while they’re dangling above the water surface and can hear you.

 

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Eastern gray squirrel in the Bronx. Photo by Steve Nanz. 

 

 

 

WildWire May 17-21

 

We’re LOADED with FREE outdoor activities this weekend and next week!

 

But first an important reminder: Bee Watchers 2008 needs volunteers. Scroll down a few days for more details, but here’s the skinny:

 

Orientation Locations
Alley Pond Environmental Center: May 19 6:00 PM
Central Park-North Meadow Recreation Center: May 21 6:00 PM
Greenbelt Nature Center: May 20 6:00 PM
Prospect Park Audubon Center: May 21 6:00 PM
Fordham University: May 22 6:00 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

WALK to learn about trees, squirrels, or horseshoe crabs!

 

BIKE to learn about NYC’s green movement and arts (with a loaner program on Sunday)!

 

PLANT trees given for free to homeowners and gardeners!

 

HIKE through northern Manhattan!

 

FISH the East River!

 

 

 

 

 

SATURDAY, MAY 17:

FISHING – QUEENS

Come to Rainey Park between 1PM and 5PM to celebrate and shape the future of parks on the western Queens waterfront with Green Shores NYC, a community group that has been fostered by Partnerships for Parks. This rain or shine event includes catch-and-release fishing with I Fish NY, and live music and informative displays.

 

 

GARDENING – BRONX, MANHATTAN, QUEENS

Free trees from New York Restoration Project!

Clean the air, make the birds happy, and beautify your property with a free tree, thanks to the New York Restoration Project! Homeowners can swing by the green markets of Sunnyside, Queens and Inwood, Manhattan for their trees.

Bronxites can hop over to the YM-YWHA’s Environmental Fair (5625 Arlington Avenue at 256th Street) to adopt their trees.

Species include Red Bud, Dogwood, Cherry, Crabapple, Service Berry, Linden, Sweetgum, Oak, Tulip Poplar and Buckeye trees, ready for planting. First come, first served, so hurry!

 

 

 

 

HIKING – MANHATTAN

Join a NYC Hiking Meetup Group exploration of Upper Manhattan parks!

The NYC Hiking meetup group is hoofing it through northern Manhattan’s city and states parks. Meet at the 1 Train at 215th. Street and Broadway at 10AM. You’ll see old growth forests, marsh grasses, a meeting of the Harlem River (really a strait) and Hudson River (really and estuary at this latitude). You’ll be glad you joined this active group!

 

ROWING – BRONX

Row with Rocking the Boat!

Explore the vibrant Bronx River in a beautifully handcrafted rowboat with Rocking the Boat. Community rowing hours are 1PM-5PM at the Jose E Serrano Riverside Campus for Arts and The Environment.

 

 

 

 

SUNDAY, MAY 18

WALKS – BROOKLYN

 

Learn about New York City’s “other rodent” at the “Nuts about Squirrels” lecture at the Fort Greene Park Visitor Center (Myrtle Avenue and Washington Park) at 12PM.

 

Learn Your Trees!

 

Don’t leaf (couldn’t resist) Fort Greene Park Visitor Center right after the squirrel talk. Stay for a tree walk to learn about our local trees.  Starting at 1PM, you’ll stroll beneath the verdant spring canopy leaning to identify trees by bark, buds, and blossoms.

More Information: 718  722 3218

 

PADDLING – QUEENS

Kayak and Canoe with the LIC Community Boathouse!

Come to Socrates Sculpture Park’s beach at Hallets Cove in Astoria for free paddling with the LIC Community Boathouse between 1PM and 5PM.

BIKING – MANHATTAN

 

Lower East, Higher Green!

 

Bike through what should be the future of New York City with the Green Apple Tour. Explore gardens, greenways and riversides. Learn about composting, solar power, green buildings and more. The tour covers the Garden District and Lower East Side and is based on the fabulous Green Map System. This is an easy, two-hour ride, and all ages are welcome.

 

Meet at the Temperance Monument in Tompkins Square Park (Ave. A & East 9th St.) at 11AM.

 

BIKING – QUEENS

 

Bike ride with your kids – bikes and helmets provided!

 

 

Get to know Long Island City, famous for its waterfront and arts scene, while learning basic bike mechanics and riding safety skills. This trip focuses on youth aged 10-15 years old, and parents and teachers are welcome. Recycle-a-Bicycle provides instruction, bikes, and helmets for those without, but make sure you register ASAP (rideclub@recycleabicycle.org).

 

Meet at 46th Ave. and 5th St., down the block from the charming LIC Bar at 10AM. Wrap up the ride at 330PM.

 

 

WALK – BRONX

 

Join author and naturalist Betsy McCully, author of City at Water’s Edge, at Wave Hill for a slide-illustrated talk and nature walk as she discusses the geological and ecological forces that have shaped this region and the human forces that impact them.  Her book is available in the Wave Hill Shop.

 

 

 

WALK – BROOKLYN (Jamaica Bay)

Scoot down to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge at 7PM for an evening with one of our city’s most ancient resident species, the horseshoe crab. Don Riepe of the American Littoral Society leads the way. For more information or to register call 718 318-9344 or e-mail driepe@nyc.rr.com.

 

TUESDAY, MAY 20 

Tuesday, May 20, 2008 – 10-11 am.
Roll the carriage or toddle the toddler to Fort Greene Park for Babies, Books and Blooms. Brooklyn Public Library & Urban Park Rangers present story time and nature crafts. At Fort Greene Park Visitor’s Center.

 

 

 

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Osprey nest relocated by Con Ed. Photo by The Wave.

by Erik Baard

A sharp-eyed photographer for The Wave, serving the Rockaways and the south shore of Long Island, recorded the gentle relocation of an osprey nest from a transformer box to a safer place atop a pole. Our thanks to Bernie Ente for passing the tip along.

 

Like many bird species, the osprey was hit hard by massive DDT insecticide spraying in the mid-twentieth century. That chemical, now banned in the U.S., is widely credited with saving hundreds of millions of human lives from malaria. But indiscriminate spraying took its toll on the environment. A critical problem was that DDT, which concentrates in fatty tissue up the food chain, interferes with calcium processing in birds and weakens their egg shells. Embryos died in “omelets.”

 

Biologist Rachel Carson sounded the alarm in her book, “Silent Spring.” She might have overstated her case (while being honest to what she believed and knew at the time), she helped spark an environmental movement for a new generation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency owes its creation in part to Carson’s advocacy.

 

In osprey population in New York City is rebounding, with nearly a dozen mating pairs in Jamaica Bay. The strange thing about osprey in New York City is that artificial structures like telephone poles have become their standard nesting sites. Sometimes poles capped with “osprey boxes” are erected for them in better locations, like the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

 

I sometimes see these “fish hawks” flying up from the disturbed surface of the water to their boxes with a fish grasped in their talons and barbed foot pads. I haven’t been lucky as often to spot the actual striking dive.

 

If there are young chicks in the nest, they have good reason to hope the hunt is a good one – the clutch hatches on a staggered schedule and older siblings starve the younger ones in lean times. Hey, you don’t have to be nice to be worth protecting.

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72seal.jpg

by Erik Baard

Three kayakers launched into the Hudson River estuary from the 56th Street annex of the Downtown Boathouse late Saturday afternoon for a leisurely outing. The paddle was fun but unremarkable. It was upon their return near sunset that things became quite unusual.

As one of the paddlers, Tim Gamble, shared with others on the NYC Kayaker email list hosted by the Hudson River Watertrail Association, a seal appeared and got friendlier than any on record in these parts:

“It was very curious and followed us, popping up, first behind, then in front again. It seemed very interested and was getting closer and closer. So I made the classic keetch keetch noise and held my hand out like I had some food. It always works with dogs, so I figured it might work with a seal too. The seal swam closer and closer, and then put its paws up on my front hatch. It looked at me once more, then hauled itself up ONTO MY FRONT HATCH COVER. It sat up there for about 30 seconds while I carefully balanced, then it jumped back in the water on the other side of my boat. Really incredible!!!”

Indeed. Though seals are curious and playful creatures, marine mammal protection groups in the New York City area seek to deter overeager humans from unintentionally harassing them, and must often tend to stranded animals. When a seal initiates contact so boldly, it’s cause for alarm.

“That seal’s behavior was absolutely bizarre,” said SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology science professor and Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island president Arthur Kopelman. “That shouldn’t happen. That seal was in need of help or was used to being fed by people. You should call the stranding hotline at that point.”

Immediately after being told of the incident by Nature Calendar, Kopelman alerted biologist Kimberly Durham, the rescue program director of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation. Kopelman noted that in photos posted elsewhere, the young seal seemed to be recovering from an injury to its left eye.

Durham told Nature Calendar that her organization has been monitoring the juvenile, which they believe is healthy, since March 15. She strongly admonished against any kind of interference that would alter a seal’s normal conduct, such as summoning it. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration levies heavy penalties on those found to feed or harass seals, dolphins, whales, and other wildlife.

Gamble, and the experienced kayakers who shared  his close encounter, are harbor veterans and committed estuary preservationists who never approach seals hauled out for rest or chase them down in the water.

Back in December of 2001, a pod of kayakers observed seals hauled out at Swinburne Island, a former crematorium off the coast of Staten Island that’s now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. I returned with them a week later to confirm that sighting and report on it for the New York Times. It was newsworthy because until then no community of seals had lived in the harbor for over a century. Individuals might have swam in here and there, but there was no populated “haul out.” Now seal watching at Swinburne Island is so reliable that New York Water Taxi promotes tours in late autumn.

Last week, kayakers voyaging down the Buttermilk Channel to Red Hook, Brooklyn for the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation inauguration of the NYC Water Trail saw a seal on Governors Island’s small beach. The small seal that decided to befriend Gamble was photographed hauled up on the Downtown Boathouse’s 72nd Street floating dock hours earlier (captured in the photograph above by Elizabeth Powers). A harp seal, an arctic species that accounts for less than one percent of local sightings, sojourned on the former Downtown Boathouse dock in Tribeca a few years ago.

All five boroughs can claim seal sightings in the new millennium. The event is exciting for eye witnesses but no longer cause for a NYC media sensation. Seals live in our relatively warmer waters between November and June before heading north to the Gulf of Maine and the Canadian Maritime Provinces.

Seals once gathered here in such multitudes that linguistic legacies remain; Robbins Reef lighthouse comes down to us from the Dutch “rob,” for seal. But harbor seals are less sociable than they appear, congregating at haul-out spots that offer safety and convenience, not necessarily camaraderie (excepting oddballs like Hoover, the talking seal). Such locations are ideally near food, though they’ll swim over twenty miles for a good meal.

Today’s pinniped restoration comes as New Yorkers are stampeding to their waterfronts and splashing into their waterways to paddle, row, and swim. Aquatic coexistence between the harbor’s two largest resident mammals is inevitable. If deftly handled, that could be a great thing for both species.

“Kayakers are out there on the water all winter and could provide information beyond the traditional seal count week,” said New York Aquarium animal curator Paul Sieswerda, who is leads annual seal counting expeditions by motorboat to Swinburne Island with Kingsborough Community College. The aquarium reported roughly a dozen seals in its previous counts, but a single outing is unreliable because individuals tend to “spy hop” and reemerge elsewhere, getting tallied redundantly, or stealthily slip past even sharp professionals.

Sieswerda encouraged kayak boathouses to post a marine mammal and turtle spreadsheets to their websites and offered to pass that data along to the Riverhead Foundation so that “a picture will form over the years of just where the seals are and what times they can be expected.”

Photographs are critical, especially now that the 72nd street juvenile has been documented. Harbor seal mating and courtship occurs underwater, but evidence is mounting that New York has become a breeding area. “I’m absolutely sure I’ve got photos of pregnant females,” Kopelman said, adding that his surveys evidence that one of the outer islands of the Long Island Sound is particularly fecund for grey seals, a much rarer species.

Does this seal baby boom signal a broader ecological recovery? Kopelman isn’t sanguine.

The Clean Water Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act (more stringent in the U.S. than anywhere else) have certainly contributed to the rebound over the past three decades. Flounder, striped bass, squid, and alewife, and crustacean stocks must be adequate to support the NYC returnees and their pups. But is the food chain contaminated from the bottom up?

“Coastal ecosystems are in a lot worse shape than they had been. I’m surprised regularly that we don’t see a reduction in seal populations. I’m sure if we studied them we’d find they have high levels of toxins” in their bodies and brains, he said, citing garbage and poisons like methyl mercury (from power plants and industry) to organic chlorines that exist beyond their intended uses in pesticides and herbicides to become general biocides in the environment.

The most intensive study of New York Harbor’s pollution challenges has been conducted by the New York Academy of Sciences. Among the locally active groups translating that information into action are Storm Water Infrastructure Matters, the River Project, and Riverkeeper.

Much of the support these groups get, both financial and volunteerism, comes from recreational water users. What’s good for the seals is good for us.

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