The Orleans Conservation Trust (OCT) hosted a lecture, “Seals: Making a Comback,” on Tuesday, March 19th as part of our Third Tuesday Winter Lecture Series. Guest speaker, Jesse Mechling, the Marine Education Director at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, gave his talk about the recent resurgence in the seal populations on Cape Cod. Just under 60 people were gathered at the Orleans Yacht Club to absorb Jesse’s knowledge about the seals that share our beaches.
There are four species of seals that Cape Cod residents may encounter: Harbor Seals, Gray Seals, Harp Seals and Hooded Seals. These four species are all part of the True Seal Family, which populates the North Atlantic. Fur Seals and Sea Lions are part of a related but distinct family, the Eared Seal Family, which populates regions south of the Equator. The two most common seal species on Cape Cod, the Harbor Seal and the Gray Seal are born off-Cape in the rocky out crops of Maine and on the shores of Muskeget Island (off Nantucket), respectively. However, once the seal pups have molted, or shed their skin, they will start to visit their established haul- outs on Cape Cod.
Haul-outs are areas where seals come ashore on beaches, sand bars, rocks, or ice flows. Seals may haul out individually or in large groups for a number of reasons: to rest, mate, nurse, give birth, molt, or recover from injury or sickness. It is unsure why seals choose certain spots to haul out but it is most likely influenced by the local availability of food and relative safety from boats, people and predators. Established haul-outs on Cape Cod can be found at High Head in Provincetown, Monomoy, Chatham, Jeremy Point in Wellfleet, Muskeget near Nantucket, and the Wasque Shoals on Martha’s Vineyard.
Although watching seals at these haul-outs can be highly enjoyable, Jesse Mechling provided some guidelines for the attendees of this lecture, the most important being: never get in the water with seals (due to the potential presence of their main predator, the Great White Shark). Other guidelines include: do not feed the seals, do not get too close in kayaks or canoes, stay at least 50 yards away, keep your pets on a leash, and limit your viewing time to 30 minutes. If you do get a chance to observe seals at these locations and you notice they are entangled, do not try to disentangle them yourself. Jesse indicated that the appropriate protocol would be to call the Marine Mammal Entanglement Response Hotline: 1-800-900-3622.
Jesse’s talk also included insights into the research being done at the Provincetown Center for Costal Studies and the controversy over the increased seal population on Cape Cod. His main take-away was that seals occupy an important ecological niche to our ecosystem and they should be valued and appreciated instead of treated as a scapegoat for the collapse of fishing industries and the heightened fear surrounding the Great White Shark’s resurging population.
Jesse’s introduction to the Great White Shark excitement segues nicely into OCT’s next Third Tuesday Lecture entitled, Great White Sharks: Our New Neighbors. To learn more about Great White Sharks, join OCT on Tuesday, April 16th at the Orleans Yacht Club. The talk will be given by Dr. Greg Skomal, an Environmental Analyst for MA Division of Fisheries and a leading shark expert. Doors open at 6pm, with the lecture beginning at 6:30pm.