Jamaica Bay Gets the Seal of Approval
BY KATIE MCFADDEN 04 JANUARY 2019
Seals have always drawn attention when they’ve hauled out onto the beach over the past few winters, but it seems they’ve found a new hot spot this season—Jamaica Bay.
On Sunday, December 30, Dan Mundy, Jr. of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, was out on a boat, exploring the bay, when he came across a rare sight—a pair of adorable harbor seals hauled out on Yellow Bar wetlands island, just west of Broad Channel.
Seals aren’t exactly uncommon in local waters. Over the past few winters, a few have been seen hauling themselves out onto the beach to relax. They’re so common now that American Princess Cruises has operated a seal watching tour in the winter for several years. The tour usually heads to Swinburne Island near Staten Island, where dozens of seals can be seen sunbathing on the rocks or swimming around nearby. However, spotting them in Jamaica Bay itself is more of a rarity and according to Mundy, it’s a great sign for the bay.
“This is a great thing going on in the bay. The seals are probably chasing herring here this time of year. It’s definitely a good sign for the bay,” Mundy said, who spotted the seals midday on Sunday. “I spotted them on Yellow Bar Island, which the Army Corps of Engineers restored a big portion of about 10 years ago. That island is doing very well now. Sometimes we’ll run into birds worth noting like snowy owls, and now we’re seeing more seals. Seeing seals around here used to be very rare, but over the last 10 years or so, we’ve started to see them more often. You’re not going to see them every time, but it’s more on a regular basis now that you’ll see them throughout the whole bay, from the tip of Breezy Point on in,” he said.
Mundy says a big contributing factor to seeing more seals is the unique depths of Jamaica Bay. “Jamaica Bay isn’t like the Long Island Sound with shallow waters. We have some areas that are 60 feet deep and these areas support this massive amount of bio-life like herring and large mammals that come into the area like seals. This is a great indicator for the bay and the health of the water, but it’s also possible because of the deep areas,” Mundy said.
However Mundy added that there has been an ongoing battle to keep it that way as various government agencies and scientists have frequently proposed filling in the deep portions. “We’re trying to make scientists and agencies more aware of the critical importance of the deep areas of the bay. These deep areas were dug out by man, but our local organizations and fishermen that have a pulse on the area realize that it was a great thing. If the whole bay was 10-feet deep, you’d never have the amount of fish or marine mammals that we have here,” Mundy said. “There’s a lack of understanding when it comes to agencies and scientists. Sometimes they’ll suggest that it be refilled, which is horrifying to us. Some scientists mean well and some agencies listen, but some love the idea of making the bay more shallow, which would be a very bad idea. Seeing those seals on Sunday just highlights how well the bay is doing because the water is deep enough for those mammals to come and feed and relax here. It really is a great sign.”
Photos by Dan Mundy, Jr.by