Google “The Hamptons” and the results yield a well-worn list of typical references- top 10 things to do, best restaurants to dine, chicest boutiques to shop, priciest real estate, etc. The sheer volume of this kind of information obscures the fact that the East End is also home to a complex ecosystem of plants, animals and natural resources that rival some of the prettiest places on the planet.
For me, the rustic beauty is a huge part of why I love living here. Thankfully there are a growing number of organizations dedicated to preserving this environment and offering terrific educational opportunities to boot. One such opportunity was the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society’s Seal Cruise. I’ve seen seals often while traveling but never in the Hamptons so I signed up.
As we headed out Allison DePerte, a marine biologist from AMSC, explained it was important to study seals here because they are “sentinels for local health”. Information such as age, location and return visits speak to the larger picture of a healthy ocean/environment. Some additional facts I learned included:
- Two types of seals are most likely to be seen here- Harbor Seals and Gray Seals.
- They show up January-April, the only months AMCS offers these cruises. By May they’ve gone north so females can give birth and mate again.
- Mating resumes shortly after a female gives birth.
- Gestation includes a period of delayed implantation that lasts 1 ½-3 months, giving females time to recover from their last pregnancy.
- Pregnancies can last 9-11 months.
- I am grateful I’m not a seal.
After cruising in Shinnecock Bay for approximately 30 minutes, we rounded a corner and ended up just east of the Ponquogue Bridge in Westhampton. There, spread out across an entire sandbar, were over 100 seals. Most were basking in the 50-degree weather but a few playful pups frolicked in the water, much to the delight of the kids on board.
We kept a healthy distance, as one always should with wildlife, and spent the next hour idling and circling slowly to observe and take photos. The sheer number of them was pretty incredible. And they were so cute – dark round eyes that squint in the sun, old man whiskers, chubby, u-shaped bodies and flippers so tiny I’m surprised alligators got the bad rap for not picking up the check. After an hour of tooling around the calm water it was time to head back to shore.
Our crew also included Captain Andy Brosnan, Chair of the Eastern Long Island Surfriders Foundation and Kristina Lange, Membership Director of Group for the East End. Like AMSC, both groups are dedicated to preserving the environment through conservation, advocacy and education. (Special shout out to Surfriders who scored a major victory in February when the town of Southampton unanimously voted to ban plastic straws and styrofoam containers. The ban goes into effect May 8th.) All three of these organizations have robust websites with info on everything from fundraisers to activities.
Here’s a quick guide with links to get you started finding your own natural encounters here in the Hamptons. Enjoy!
Atlantic Marine Conservation Society – Events
Group for the East End – Guided Nature Outings
Surfrider Foundation Eastern Long Island – Campaigns