Rome Point Seals
boat sealskayak seals
Boats and Kayaks
 *Special Essay 3/14/2016*
 
Incidents of the seals at Rome Point being disturbed and flushed from the haul-out rocks happen every seal season. In most cases, power boat operators or kayakers are responsible for these unfortunate occurrences, but in recent years, paddle boards and even drones have also caused the seal herd to flee from their resting rocks. The seals need their rest and the stress associated with being chased from the rocks has a negative impact on these animals. Sometimes the seals will be spooked repeatedly several times in a day or on several consecutive days by different watercraft. Being flushed repeatedly is troublesome for the pregnant female seals in the spring, as pup-bearing seals need to conserve their energy for their northern migration. In addition, the thoughtless disturbance of the seals can spoil an outing for hopeful seal watchers who have hiked out to Rome Point to observe seals in a responsible manner.

So far in 2016, we have observed 6 seal disturbance incidents, which is an unusually high number for the winter months when the seals are usually left alone to bask in peace. Now, we are moving into the prime of the seal season, when large numbers of seals, many of which are in advanced pregnancy, are hauled out on the rocks off of Rome Point. Historically, seal disturbance incidents have increased during the more temperate spring weather, and an increase from the present level of seal harassment, particularly on nice weekend days, would make a successful seal walk an even more dubious proposition for the families who venture out to see the seals on weekends.

We have no knowledge of the degree to which repeated disturbance may cause harm to the seals, and harbor seals, while federally protected, are no longer endangered or threatened as a species. We are not inclined towards overstating the harm that the seals may experience from being flushed from the rocks on a regular basis, as we have no way of quantifying any detrimental effects. The fact that many seals return to Rome Point every year (we recognize between 15 to 20 individual seals that return every year) is indicative that they continue to find this to be an agreeable haul-out habitat. Therefore, it has been our policy to primarily be vigilant regarding any on-going commercial activity in the area that could permanently ruin the seal haul-out location. Even with regard to commercial ventures, we have been tolerant when conch (channeled whelk) fishermen and now (perhaps) a new oyster aquaculture operation disturb the seals on a sporadic basis. Insofar as recreational watercraft operators are concerned, we have taken a lot of notes and video, but have not reported anyone, even repeat offenders, to the authorities to date.

The increasing number of seal disturbance incidents, the frequency that this happens on prime weekend days which may be the only opportunity that working families with school-aged children have to see the seals, and the ever-increasing popularity of Rome Point as a seal seeking recreational destination, has caused us to give fresh consideration as to how, or whether, we might undertake some effort to try to protect the seals from undue, repeated harassment. We have given this a lot of thought over the past 15 years and have concluded to date that the potential pitfalls of such an effort may be more of a risk that the actual benefits. We are well aware of the possibility of unintended consequences, an inappropriate governmental response, and ill feelings that might result from an area closure or law enforcement activity. A public communication campaign might seem a more prudent course of action at first blush, but when we consider how crowded the parking area and roadside parking have become on nice weekends, we are disinclined to take or support any action that would serve to publicize Rome Point as a public seal observation destination.

We have made over 700 seal observations at Rome Point over the past 15 years, so we feel secure in our assertion that no one knows more about the seals and the circumstances associated with seal watching there than we do. Our seal watching activities and this web site are a voluntary labor of love, and we are still as thrilled when we see interesting seal behavior, or when young and old alike get their first amazing look at wild seals through our spotting scope, as we were when we started our Rome Point adventure 15 years ago. Rome Point is a location for seal observation that is unique in southern New England, and we know of only one other place on the Maine coast that is comparable for public access, shore-based, marine mammal observation. We are absolutely certain that the Rome Point seal watching experience is deserving of protection and preservation, but the devil always lies in the details, as we have learned from our research into similar circumstances regarding wildlife protection.

In closing, to the extent that there may be problems at Rome Point with the seals being flushed on a regular basis, or with overcrowding on weekends, we are fairly certain that these issues are not our personal problems per se. We have never made any effort to publicize seal watching at Rome Point, but we are not at all surprised that this family activity has become more popular, as on good days seal watching through a spotting scope is an unforgettable nature experience that people will be inclined to tell their friends and neighbors about. For a long time, we have wondered how long the Rome Point seal watching experience could be maintained in the undeveloped, lassiez faire manner that we have become accustomed to. Now it seems that we are about one serious car accident, or one more oyster farm, or one spring season with repeated seal harassment on every nice day, away from the end of seal watching as we have known it at Rome Point. Our question, for those who may find seal watching at Rome Point something worthy of protecting and preserving, is how best to achieve this goal without opening a Pandora's box of undesirable consequences. We urge anyone who may read this to
Contact Romepointseals and let us know of any suggestions, admonitions, or seal watching stories that you might care to share.


    Romepointseals.org does not look kindly upon watercraft operators who disturb or harass the seals. We been monitoring this location for many years and have detailed notes recording the names, registration numbers, and descriptions of boats and kayaks that have disturbed or harassed the seals in the past. Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt; however, repeat or intentional violators of the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act that we observe may be videotaped and our eyewitness account will be submitted to the proper authorities.

    We recognize that in most cases mariners do not intend to cause any harm, they just want to get an up-close look at the seals. Our sympathy lies especially with kayakers, who may not realize that harbor seals are very sensitive to their presence and can be disturbed by kayaks as far as 1/2 mile away. Mariners who are navigating in the vicinity of hauled-out seals in winter are advised to observe the following guidelines.
The best way to observe seals at Rome Point is from shore using a spotting scopeEveryone is invited to join us and the other seal observers on the Rome Point shore; we are always eager to share our scope with all interested persons and families.Kayakers are urged to beach in Bissel Cove and walk across the point to view the seals. The seals, as well as your neighbors and fellow nature lovers, will think most highly of you for your kind consideration.

For anyone who is looking for a fun and educational excursion on the bay in winter, we recommend the excellent seal watch cruises offered by Save The Bay out of Newport, RI.  The expert captains of the Alletta Morris know how to get close enough to the seals to get great views without bothering them, while the knowledgeable naturalists on board can tell you all about seals.       Save The Bay Seal Tours

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