Rome Point Seals
Blubberslant pair
Seal Observation Archives
    On this page you will find a chronological archive of seal observation notes dating back to the 2008 season, as well as a few short essays inspired by the people and creatures encountered on our nature walks and outdoor adventures.
2014-2015 Season

4-29-2015  43 seals hauled-out; 65 degrees, NE 5, partly cloudy, 10:45  Last seal watch of Spring 2015 season.
The seals are definitely leaving the area now, and about 1/3 of the remaining seals are juveniles. One seal sported a new net entanglement scar, but most of the other seals looked healthy and contented.  Their contentment was short lived as a passing fishing boat spooked the seals at 10:55.  The seals showed little inclination to return to the rocks after they were disturbed, and when we departed from our last seal watch of the Spring 2015 season, there were only a half-dozen seals left to bid us farewell until Fall.

4-24-2015  50 seals hauled-out; 60 degrees, NW 15, sunny, 17:00
A howling Northwest wind and less-than-optimal tide conditions combined to keep the seal numbers down this afternoon, and the choppy bay conditions caused the seals to spend less time cavorting around the surface of the water. We watched as the seal count gradually increased from 20 to 50 in the typical Spring pattern with small seals already hauled out on the higher rocks (including one on the white rock) when we arrived, and mature seals hauling out of the lower rocks as the tide receded.

The seal count for today was conducted by my granddaughter, who just turned 8 and has been coming on seal walks with me since she was 3 years old. My little friend has been blessed with remarkable powers of observation, and a nature walk with her always reveals subtle details that would remain unseen to the adult eye. Interesting shells, rocks, insects, plants, feathers, fur, and flowers never fail to catch her eye, but when we arrived at the seal watching spot today her attention turned to the seals. After a few minutes she reflexively started to count the seals through the spotting scope, as she has seen her Grampie do many times. She continued counting occasionally as the number of seals increased, until it was time for the final seal count just before we departed. She announced that there were 50 seals on the rocks, and made her first first entry in Grampie's nature journal, which is shown below.

After she had written her notes in my journal, which include the 50 seals, 4 helicopters, and 1 submarine (for real! a barge out of Quonset passed by with the complete tail assembly of a submarine as cargo) we spotted, I decided to do the official seal count myself, as I wanted to check her seal counting accuracy. I have coached her to count every tail and whisker as a seal, as some seals are invariably partially obscured by other seals or rocks in the line of sight, and even adults that count the seals through my scope always miss a few and come up with a count that is lower than mine. As I scanned the rocks from right to left to tally the count, my anticipation grew as I could tell that her count was going to be very close. When I counted the last seal on the white rock, tears welled up in my eyes, as there were indeed exactly 50 seals visible on the rocks just as she had told me. At that moment, there could not possibly have been a more proud and happy grandfather of the face of the earth, and we celebrated with glee as she exclaimed "counting seals is fun". Counting seals sure is fun, but my wonderful granddaughter will be all grown up before she will ever realize how much fun her Grampie had with her on this day that will live forever in my memory.

4-23-2015
  83 seals hauled-out; 60 degrees, W 15, mostly cloudy, 16:30
Pretty good seal watching late this afternoon as the seals rallied on a day when conditions for seal observation were greatly improved from the previous day. It is likely that we will not see any more days this Spring when more than 100 seals haul out, and less seals means less interactions and interesting behavior to watch, but the remaining seals are often very active in the water this time of year and occasional territorial disputes still occur. Of course, nature is full of surprises, so there is always the possibility of seeing something special... like the yearling seal who decided to haul out again on the rock close to the shore.  We were able to tell that this was the same little seal we saw on Tuesday by a small pockmark on its chest, and this seal settled down and stayed on the nearby rock for the entire time we were there. The active seals that were jumping and tail slapping showed the first signs of courtship behavior we observed this Spring; with a little seal close by, and seals with amorous intent carrying on in the water, this seal watch served to remind us that seeing lots of seals is only a part of the story and that interesting observations can be made even if the seal count is relatively low.

4-22-2015  40 seals hauled-out; 60 degrees, S 20+, partly cloudy, 15:30
Seal watching today took on the character of a late spring affair, with a strong South wind holding the tide up and keeping most of the adult seals away. Fortunately, the yearling and 2nd year seals still hauled out on the tall rocks, saving the seal watching day for the seal seeking families who were not deterred by the wind and made the trek out to Rome Point. There was very little interesting behavior to observe, but at least the seals were well-posed for telescope viewing under decent lighting conditions, which made seal watching interesting for the first-time Rome Point visitors. Mostly immature seals and just a few adults is a hallmark of a seal season that is coming to its end, however, the harsh wind conditions today probably played a major role in the relative low seal count. That said, a big blow from the South sometimes triggers the movement of many of the seals out of the Bay, so tomorrow it will be interesting to see if large numbers of seals are still around, especially with a favorable West wind in the forecast.

4-21-2015  148 seals hauled-out; 65 degrees, SW 10 to 20, partly cloudy, 15:30
5 Seals on far rock, 1 on a close rock and 1 at Greene Point for 155 seals total. More outstanding seal watching today, very similar to Sunday and every bit as interesting. 3 1/2 hours before low tide there were 45 seals already on the rocks, including 7 yearlings on the white rock and Linebelly on the still submerged pointy rock. When Linebelly makes his appearance early in the tide, it is a sign that the seals will be hauling out in force, and the seals held true to form this afternoon. They were especially energetic upon their arrival at the rocks, with the most porpoising and tail-slapping behavior we have seen this season. Around 1:30 the yearlings on the white rock took to the water and shortly thereafter one of the little seals made an appearance close to shore. We watched quietly as this seal hauled out only 40 yards away, and enjoyed super close-up views of this seal for the next two hours. I was especially pleased to share the scope with several nice families during this afternoon's school vacation week seal watch and it was gratifying to enjoy such good late season seal watching after a harsh winter that greatly limited the seal watching opportunities in February and March.

Sometimes children can be excellent seal watching assistants, and one little girl remarked that one seal had a red, bloody mouth. The next time I got around to taking a good look at the seals, I was surprised to see that the seal she was referring to was Linebelly, who indeed had one of the most nasty looking injuries that we have seen. The entire right side of Linebelly's mouth was soaked with blood, and his right front flipper was also bloody, probably from pawing at his injured mouth. We thought we had seen signs of this same injury on Linebelly last week, but whatever is going on with one of our favorite seals has clearly taken a turn for the worse. In spite of his wounded mouth, Linebelly appeared to be resting comfortably and in no apparent distress. We will be checking our old friend out closely when the light is good enough to zoom in for a good look, and we can only hope that good old Linebelly makes a full and speedy recovery.

4-19-2015  150 seals hauled-out; 60 degrees, calm to S 15+, clear, 12:30
6 Seals on far rock for 156 seals total. Seal watching today was pretty much as good as it gets, with many interesting behavioral observations in the morning, and hours of fun, sociable seal watching in the afternoon. Low humidity means good light for the spotting scope, which was most appreciated today after the recent seal watches which were very good, but lacking in this key element. Similar to yesterday, we enjoyed two hours of spectacular seal watching, featuring many territorial interactions and repeated aerial displays. There were 8 yearling seals on the white rock, but these seals, as well as other seals on the taller rocks, took a dive into the water fairly early in the ebb tide. This is something we often see when many seals are hauled out, and after a brief swim the seals that have left their higher perches frequently re-emerge on lower rock outcroppings.

One seal showed a good deal of interest in the seal watchers on the shore and actually hauled out twice on the nearby rocks to survey the situation. We missed the mark slightly on the focus for the photo below, but we think the handsome pose of this intrepid, inquisitive seal is worth sharing.

Around 12:15, the wind kicked up out of the south and we once again retreated to the shelter of the trees. Shortly thereafter, we were joined in our seal watch by a Girl Scout troop from Warwick, who greatly enjoyed checking out the seals and trying their hands at taking photos through the scope using phones and compact digital cameras. The intuitive way that the girls used their phones and cameras to take keepsake photographs showed how these children have adapted to modern technology in a way that most grownups are not able to duplicate. The idea of taking pictures through the spotting scope seemed to be second nature to these young girls, while it never even occurs to most adults that such a thing might even be a possibility. Some of the girls managed to get some nice photos, and everyone who visited Rome Point in the 5 hours we spent there today left with a smile, as the seals obliged all seal seekers with great views of resting harbor seals well into the late afternoon hours.

4-18-2015  145 seals hauled-out; 60 degrees, calm to SE 10+, clear, 11:50
8 Seals on far rocks for 153 seals total. We started our seal watch 3/12 hours before low tide to make the most of a seal watch opportunity that we eagerly anticipated, and the seals delivered a wonderful exhibition of marine mammal behavior for two hours. We watched as the number of seals hauled out increased from 50 to 145, with all of the associated seal behaviors that are so interesting to watch. The seal seekers who joined us on the beach from 10:00 to noon were suitably impressed, as only the less than optimal lighting conditions kept this from being a perfect seal watch.

Around 11:40 the wind kicked up out of the southeast, sufficiently to shake the scope and send us seeking the shelter of the trees. The seals were mostly unperturbed by the breezy conditions, so we were most surprised when all of the seals suddenly took to the water at noon. The culprit turned out to be a single kayaker who rounded the point and headed for the rocks, leaving no seal left behind. The oblivious paddler remained in the area far too long for the comfort of the seals, who reluctantly left the area after 15 minutes. Eventually, a half-dozen immature seals returned to the rocks, but they were on the farthest rocks and not well positioned for observation. If the seals had not been disturbed, it is likely they would have stayed on the rocks all afternoon with the extra-low tide conditions. We enjoyed outstanding seal watching this morning, but we left with some disappointment for the many families who did not get to see the big seal show today, all because of one person who thoughtlessly spoiled the afternoon seal watching.

4-16-2015  105 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, calm to S 10+, clear, 11:00
14 seals on far rocks and 9 seals at Greene Point for 130 seals total. The sight of numerous bobbing seal heads on the calm bay was an immediate indication that the seals had been disturbed as we took our first look from the narrow point of the peninsula. However, we never would have guessed the cause of the seal's distress if we had not seen it with our own eyes, as today marked the first appearance of a remote controlled drone at Rome Point. Some visitors informed us that the seals had been chased from the rocks by a small drone quadcopter... unbelievable but true! The drone's owner was set up at the shoreline, and was retrieving his aircraft as we set up the scope, while the swimming seals evaluated the situation. About half of the swimming seals returned to the rocks, and some seals were not spooked by the buzzing 'copter, leaving over 100 seals hauled out after the herd finally settled down.

As the drone operator slinked away, we got down to the fun of seal observation, and immediately recognized that the harbor seals had been joined today by an old acquaintance of ours, namely Big Red the Grey seal. Big Red was hauled out on the center cluster, and although we hoped he would regale us with his tuneful song, the strikingly colored seal remained silent for the duration of his nap. Big Red is shown in the photo below.

Another Grey seal circled the rocks warily, but the second Grey never did haul out. Other seals fought with rivals to secure their desired resting rock, with their grunts and growls clearly audible in the calm wind conditions. Our old buddy Linebelly, whom we have been observing for the past 8 years, is shown below perched upon his favorite rock high above the lesser seals that frequently fight for space on the lower rocks.

At 10:50 a breeze kicked up out of the south, causing some of the seals to move to other rocks, and at 11:45 all but about 20 seals splashily took to the water and departed for deep water. All in all, the seal watching today was very interesting, but we could have done without the drone harassing the seals, and we will not be shy about speaking up if other people attempt to approach the hauled out seals with remote controlled aircraft, boats, submarines, or any other gadget in the future.

4-15-2015  184 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, NNW 15 to N 15+, clear, 10:30
8 seals on far rocks for 192 seals total.  We are really into the good seal watching now with another big seal day and the associated continuously interesting behavior that occurs when a large group of marine mammals congregates and competes for the most desirable haul-out territory.  Certain rocks seem to be regular centers of attention and competition for seals that arrive late and today the rocks directly in front of Linebelly's pointy rock were the site of a number of territorial disputes involving at least four different seals.  It is always amusing to watch Linebelly look on dispassionately (when he can even be bothered to open his eyes) as seals bellow and battle on the lower rocks right in front of him. Linebelly is fortunate to remain above the fray; some other seals are not so lucky and get caught up in fights that are not of their own making. This happened on the right mound rock when a late-arriving big seal muscled its way onto the crowded rock, upsetting the balance of power and stirring up a half-dozen seals who had previously been coexisting peacefully.

4-12-2015
  178 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind calm to W5, clear, 8:30
10 Seals on far rock and 20 seals at Greene Point for 198 seals total. Outstanding seal watching early this morning, with numerous seals taking up all of the available low-lying real estate.  Interestingly, there were no seals on the taller rocks, which made for crowded conditions on the low rocks.  This resulted in steady vocal scolding and snarky skirmishes, on several occasions we could hear the slapping sounds of flippers on sealskin as rival seals engaged in vigorous slap fights.  We arrived too late to see the seals haul out, but the ongoing displays of territorial behavior kept us entertained until the entire herd spooked for no apparent reason at 9:00.  About 20 seals returned to the rocks, but they were chased away in short order by a lobster fisherman who set a few pots in close proximity to the resting rocks.

We returned for a second evening seal watch, which was interesting enough, but with only 30 seals hauled out this outing could not compare to the excellent marine mammal observation we enjoyed this morning.

3-22-2015  55 seals hauled-out; 34 degrees, wind NW 15 to 25+, clear, 15:30
5 seals on far rock for 60 seals total. Today's seal watch had a little bit of everything, and was sufficiently interesting to overcome a howling north wind and poor light for the spotting scope. We watched the seals haul out and observed the first Grey seal of the season as it selected the center of the cluster for its resting place. Next, we spotted a seal with an unusual white stripe running back over the bridge of its nose on to the top of the seal's head. With bad light for the scope, we could not make out exactly what was going on with this strange looking seal until after it hauled out. When we finally got a good look it was apparent that the poor seal had a white soft plastic fishing lure stuck on its nose. The lure was an imitation plastic eel about 9 inches long and the hook was embedded in the animal's nose, not in its mouth. It will be interesting to see how long the seal is stuck with a fishing lure on its face; eventually, the hook will rust and break, but until then, this seal will be easy to identify. As the afternoon progressed, other seals hauled out in front of the Grey seal and the seal with the lure hooked to its nose, blocking our view of both of these interesting animals.
The past three days we have had to set up the scope about 50 yards south of our customary spot on the beach, as the wind has been whipping around the point.  We can't tolerate much winter wind, as the wind shakes the scope and chills the observer, making for a distracted and uncomfortable seal watch. We usually move into the shelter of the cedar trees when the northwest wind blows cold and hard around the point, but right now the sheltered area is a sheet of slippery ice. We can't ever recall conditions like this in late March, and we are very much looking forward to winter releasing its icy grip on the Rome Point shore

3-20-2015  70 seals hauled-out; 32 degrees, wind NW 15 to 20+, clear, 13:30
3 seals on far rock for 73 seals total. The stiff wind and low astronomical tide exposed many rocks today that we see only on the lowest of tides, creating plenty of prime haul-out real estate for the good number of seals in attendance this afternoon.  By the time we arrived the seals were well-settled in spite of the gusty NW wind and with lots of room to spread out there was little interaction among the seals while we were there.  We noticed Linebelly perched up on his favorite pointy rock, posing in fine form as usual, but we were concerned to see the Rome Point regular doing a lot of mouth breathing, which is a sign of illness or distress in harbor seals. It also appears that perhaps Linebelly has dropped a few pounds, but we are not certain about this.  We will be watching the big fellow closely and hoping for the best, as he has been a seal watchers favorite seal for at least the past eight seasons.

The trail conditions continue to challenge hikers and dog walkers at Rome Point, and we have noted a marked decrease in the number of seal seekers that we are seeing recently.  Today, only 3 visitors made it to the point in the 3 hours I was there; however, I spent a good amount of time hanging with these intrepid hikers and greatly enjoyed their conversation and company. While the number of seal observers has been few this month, those that are determined to make the trek to see the seals have been rewarded with a long close look at the seals, unhurried by the presence of others waiting for a turn at the spotting scope. Seal watching this season has taken on a different character than we are accustomed to with a lot fewer visitors to Rome Point, and we both enjoy the peaceful tranquility of the most recent seal watches while also missing the social aspect of the seal watching experience.

3-11-2015  67 seals hauled-out; 52 degrees, wind NW 10 increasing to NW 20+, hazy to partly cloudy, 16:30
2 seals on far rock for 69 seals total. The first ten minutes of the seal watch today were the best for observing interesting behavior, with seals on the center cluster and the flat rock engaging in feisty sustained fighting. The loud vocalizations that could be heard in spite of the gusting wind were indicative of the intensity of the conflicts, which were by far the most aggressive and lengthy we have seen this season. However, after the initial skirmishes, the seals settled quickly and the rest of our seal observation was uneventful. The trail conditions are definitely keeping many people from making the trek all the way to the point, but the snow and ice has receded up the shoreline enough to make walking on the beach easier. With no more snow in the forecast, prospects for more interesting and less solitary seal watching are most encouraging for the upcoming spring tide cycle next week.

3-9-2015  97 seals hauled-out; 25 degrees, wind W 10 increasing to NW 20, clear, 16:00
5 seals on far rock and 1 seal off Fox Island for 103 seals total. A very good seal watch today, certainly among the best days so far this season.  A lot of seals and occasional interesting behavior were sufficient to overcome less-than-stellar light conditions that are common in mid-afternoon on sunny spring days. We watched about 60 seals haul out over the course of the afternoon, but with the low astronomical tide, there was plenty of available real estate to allow the seals to mostly avoid territorial confrontations.  A late-arriving large seal did bully his way into the center of the flat rock, which resulted in a 10 minute flurry of mixed battle action among the flat rock occupants, but for the most part the seals minded their manners.  The bay was too rough for much surface activity, but one energetic seal porpoised 9 times in a row as it swam parallel to the rocks, providing a good profile view of a jumping seal. As the lighting improved later in the afternoon we were able to get better close-up looks at the seals, so by the time several groups of seal seekers arrived in late afternoon, they were rewarded for making the slushy hike with excellent views of the most seals we have observed so far this season.

The highlight of the day was unexpected and unfolded quickly as I talked with an interested visitor who asked several keen questions about the seals.  I have become accustomed to maintaining a lookout for interesting seal action even while interacting with visitors, so as I answered a few questions I spotted a splash just behind the haul out rocks. A closer look through binoculars revealed a leaping seal, then another seal joined in, and then a third seal porpoised out of the water.  The three seals put on a brief but spirited aerial display that was both spectacular and unusual. I do not know why seals sometimes leap out of the water, but I know that any time that three seals are exhibiting this behavior in close proximity at the same time, it is truly a sight to behold.

3-7-2015  47 seals hauled-out; 25 degrees, wind SSW 10 increasing to 20, clear, 14:30
Our first seal watch in a month was very similar to the last seal watch we had in early February, except that today we had to expend a lot more effort to negotiate the uneven, tiresome, snow-packed trail.  The extra exercise was mostly welcome as a change from the back straining snow shoveling that has dominated our outdoor workouts lately.  However, it seems that the trail conditions may be too much of a challenge for more casual visitors, as we had very little company on the seal watching beach on this sunny, comfortable Saturday afternoon.  The seals were deep into their rest cycle when we arrived, as an astronomical low tide made for an especially early haul out, so we did not get to see any notable seal behavior on this visit.  Judging by the number of seals we saw today, the start of the seal's spring migration is likely to be delayed in 2015, which in not surprising considering the below average temperatures that we have seen to date.  With trail conditions that are sure to remain challenging for at least another week or two, and continuing colder than average weather, it looks like the best seal watching of the season, which is usually in full swing around St. Patrick's Day, will have to wait a few more weeks.

2-7-2015  42 seals hauled-out; 28 degrees, wind SSW 10, cloudy, snow showers to sleet, 14:45
A good number of seal were hauled out today, featuring an assortment of large seals on the lower rocks and 6 to 8 yearlings on the tall rocks.  Snow showers made for less than optimal viewing conditions, but the steady stream of seal seeking couples were treated to good views of resting harbor seals.  It was surprising to have so much company on a day with unsettled weather and slippery trail conditions, but it seems many folks are getting cabin fever and are looking for an opportunity to get out for a walk on any day when the snow and chilly wind is abated.  We can relate to that, so we enjoyed a pleasant afternoon on the sheltered Rome Point shore watching seals with the new friends we met today.

The seals were slightly unsettled by the light, blowing snowfall, but eventually most of them managed to fall into a sound sleep.  This changed when the snow changed over to sleet, and it was interesting to note how the seals were rousted when the soft snow turned to stinging ice pellets.  The sleet only lasted about 15 minutes, and when the precipitation finally stopped the seals settled down into heavy rest mode once again.

2-1-2015  18 seals hauled-out; 25 degrees, wind W 10 to 15, clear, 12:45
An average seal watch for this time of year, which was notable mostly for the pleasant character of the weather on the Rome Point lee shore. The seal observation was markedly similar to last weekend, with smaller seals hauled out when we arrived and just a few larger seals hauling out later, around low tide. It appears that a  number of seals have left the area over the past 10 days, as conditions were perfect for seals to haul out on the rocks this morning, but the number of seals spotted was relatively low today. We have noted this trend in past seal seasons right around this time of the year; perhaps the movements of the forage species that the seals rely upon for food may explain why we see fewer seals in late January most years. We know the seals' behavior is largely driven by the availability of plentiful prey, and by now the local fishing fleet has had their way with the Atlantic herring schools that congregate near the mouth of the bay for well over a month. Of course there could be a number of other reasons why many of the bigger seals stop hanging around Rome Point for two or three weeks around late January every year; we can only speculate why this happens.

The seals were mostly hauled out on the flat rock, with a smattering of other seals scattered on the other rocks. The fact that smaller seals have managed to gain control of the flat rock is a telltale sign that most of the dominant seals are not around right now, and somehow these smaller seals seem to be aware of this. Right around low tide, a half-dozen full grown seal finally showed up, and took up station on a various rocks, including the flat rock. These bigger seals were easily able to make room for themselves on the flat rock by unceremoniously shoving the small seals aside, with only token resistance from the outmatched little seals. As our seal watch ended, I noticed some splashes and got to see one seal porpoise 3 times, jumping completely out of the water as I watched through the zoomed-in scope. This final observation was a fine ending to a day when the Rome Point seals were not especially interesting, but still provided entertainment and enjoyment that was well worth the time invested.

1-25-2015  21 seals hauled-out; 30 degrees, wind NW 15+, clear to partly cloudy, 16:00
The seals were not around in large numbers today, but when we arrived there were 6 yearling seals perched high and dry on the left tall rock.  These seal gave us something to look at until their friends started to show up, which took a while due to the robust northwest wind. When one large seal finally hauled out on the flat rock, seal watching took a more interesting turn, as a couple of arriving seals put on exceptional displays. We were amazed to watch one seal porpoise out of the water 13 consecutive times; not the highest jumps, but spectacular nonetheless. Not to be outdone, another seal proceeded to perform at least 20 tail slaps in rapid succession. Other big seals hauled out on the flat rock and in the vicinity of the pointy rock giving a steady stream of seal watchers good views of both young and mature marine mammals. This was one of those days when the seal observation was much more interesting than the relatively low number of seals would indicate, as for a while we got to see some fascinating behavior, while a decent number of representative specimens were hauled out for everyone to see in good lighting conditions.

1-23-2015  58 seals hauled-out; 33 degrees, wind SW 5 increasing to 15, clear, 15:30
Pretty good seal watching on this beautiful winter afternoon, with light winds and good light for close-up viewing. When we first arrived, the seals on the flat rock put on one of the best territorial displays we have seen this season, as they jostled and slapped each other as they settled into position for their naps. A half-dozen yearling seals were hauled out on top of the tall rocks, with one little seal posed attractively in profile all by itself high above the water line. There were a fair number of seal seekers around for a January Friday afternoon, and everyone enjoyed the good views of the resting seals. Our close-up observations revealed one seal with a necklace-like net entanglement scar, and another seal with an most unusual scar from and old injury to its top posterior, which is not a location where the seals are typically wounded. Perhaps an encounter with a boat propeller was the cause of this injury, which was healed nicely.

1-19-2015
  75 seals hauled-out; 36 degrees, wind W 15, partly cloudy, 13:00
5 seals on far rock for 80 seals total.  A fine mid-winter seal watch this afternoon on a Martin Luther King memorial Monday.  We were late to the seal party and did not get out to Rome Point until 1/2 hour after low tide.  On most days we will not bother to make the seal hike unless we can get there before low tide, but the combination of an astronomical low tide and the prospect of meeting up with MLK day seal seeking families was sufficient motivation for us to take a chance, with hopes that decent seal watching would extend well into the afternoon.  Our reward was a good number of seals, well posed in good light conditions, with lots of friendly company to make the afternoon fly by.  We no sooner set up the scope when someone spotted a seal swimming close to the shoreline, once I saw that seal nosing around the close to shore rocks, we retreated to the woods to see if this seal would haul out to give us an up close and personal look.  Sure enough the yearling harbor seal hauled itself up on a nearby rock, providing outstanding views to the dozen or so visitors who luckily timed their hike to coincide with this seal's arrival. After about 15 minutes the commotion of more arriving hikers disturbed the little seal, who took to the water and swam off quickly.

Thanks to the extra-low tide, the good seal watching continued for at least 3 1/2 hours after low tide.  When we left at 3:45, there were still about 30 seals hauled out, and as the water level rose there was a bit of jostling and snapping among some seals as they inched their way to slightly higher ground. The day was capped off by the sudden return of the little seal to the close-in rocks, which gave us another close up look for a few bonus minutes. As we left, I was thinking about how I almost did not bother with our late arriving seal hike today, and how fortunate it was that we put our misgivings aside and invested the time for a most satisfying seal watch this January afternoon.

1-17-2015  15 seals hauled-out; 20 degrees, wind N 10 to 15, clear, 11:00
3 seals on far rock for 18 seals total. Seal watching was unremarkable today with just a few seals that were not well positioned for observation, a cold north wind, and poor light for telescopic observation.  The north wind was most likely the culprit that kept many of the seals away, and the cold conditions also served to keep hikers off the exposed beach. Our visit today was brief, with the best entertainment provided by a gull who showed both persistence and agility in his quest to crack an especially thick-shelled quahog on the white rock. It took over ten attempts and the gull had to hustle several times to prevent the ricocheting clam from bouncing off the rock back into the water, but in the end the gull was rewarded with a fresh lunch from the raw bar. We took our cue from the gull and left Rome Point early to enjoy our own lunch, with hopes high for better seal watching tomorrow morning.

1-9-2015  50 seals hauled-out; 25 degrees, wind NW 10 to 15, clear, 13:15
We spent a couple of hours at Rome Point this afternoon, sharing good views of the seals through the scope... mostly with hearty young couples who braved the cold weather to see some seals. No families with little kids in tow were around on this Saturday, as the mid-winter freeze probably scared even the more adventurous families away. However, when the wind has a westerly component the Rome Point beach is both sheltered and surprisingly comfortable for those hikers who dress appropriately. The seal watching improved as the afternoon progressed, with much better light and more seals around after about 2:45 pm. There was some territorial behavior seen on the center cluster when one large specimen muscled his way into the middle of the group, upsetting the balance of power for 10 minutes or so.  A few later arriving seals did jump and splash a bit for our viewing pleasure, and there were at least 8 yearling seals hauled out on the taller rocks to the left.  Linebelly and several other big seals near his pointy rock perch posed nicely to give everyone a good look, and we would have stayed later if not for the Patriots playoff football action on tap for late afternoon.

1-2-2015  49 seals hauled-out; 37 degrees, wind SW 10 to 20, clear, 12:15
2 seals on far rock for 51 seals total. Seal watching was almost identical to yesterday, except that there were twice as many seals present today. The seals were sound asleep when we arrived, and remained very settled for the duration of our visit. One seal on the right mound seemed to serve as the watchman, as this seal scanned regularly, but most of the other seals were out cold. Perhaps the lingering effects of a big New Year's night out made the seals especially tired; ha, ha, maybe people were also feeling a bit lazy from the holidays season hustle and bustle, as there were only a few visitors to Rome Point while we were there.

1-1-2015  24 seals hauled-out; 35 degrees, wind SSW 10 to 20, clear, 11:15
2 seals on far rock for 26 seals total. Not as many seals hauled out as we expected today, possibly due to a wind direction that was more southerly than the forecast predicted. Fortunately, the seals that were present obliged us by posing on the rocks in positions where they were clearly visible. A good number of seal watchers were out and about, with several sizable groups enjoying the sheltered, sunny shoreline, some sharing snacks with us. The seal watch today was notable for pleasant conditions, friendly seal fellowship, and good views of both mature and juvenile seals, but not much interesting activity from the seals, who were apparently sleeping off a long night of New Year's revelry.

12-27-2014  52 seals hauled-out; 48 degrees, wind W calm to 5, clear, 16:15
5 seals on far rock for 57 seals total. Seal watching got off to slow start this afternoon, as the presence of boats in the vicinity of the haul out rocks disturbed both the seals that had arrived early for their rest break and the seals that were coming in while the boaters lurked in the area. After the boats departed, it took a good half hour before the swimming seals started to settle down, and even then they still showed considerable signs of anxiety. This was unfortunate for the many families who were out for a seal walk in the early afternoon, but clueless boat operators will always show up a few times every season to mess up the seal observation for everyone else... mostly on the nicest weekends when there are a lot of people around to be disappointed. However, on this day the seals rallied  about 2:45 with the arrival of some of the big dominant seals who hauled out on the flat rock for the viewing pleasure of patient or late-arriving seal watchers. Once the big boys settled in, other seals gained confidence and soon seals were hauled out on most of the lower, more accessible locations.

As the seal watching improved, the interest and attention of the seal watchers also picked up, and we enjoyed 1 1/2 hours of good seal observation with a number of friendly families and small children in the late afternoon. One especially adorable red-haired little girl enjoyed the best seal observations of the day, as she watched through the scope as a little seal that was on a rock occupied by much larger seals was shoved into the water. She enjoyed watching another territorial seal interaction shortly thereafter, and, like pretty much all of the children who got a look at the seals through the scope the past two days, was both thrilled and grateful for her good fortune. If only the thoughtless watercraft operators could know how they unwittingly stole the opportunity for other families to enjoy the the nature observation that my little friend experienced today, there would be a lot fewer seal harassment incidents at Rome Point.

12-26-2014  88 seals hauled-out; 50 degrees, wind W 10, clear, 15:30
4 seals on far rock and 1 off Fox Island for 93 seals total.  The seals put on an outstanding exhibition of joy to the world this afternoon, as the first beautiful sunny day for quite some time had them literally jumping for joy. As the seals arrived to haul out on the outgoing tide, some of them could be observed leaping completely out of the water and playfully splashing on the surface. This is behavior that we commonly observe on nice Spring days, but not so much in mid-Winter. A good number of seal seeking families got to see the seals frolicking about and exclamations of amazement were heard regularly for the 40 minute duration of the seal acrobatics show.

After the seals settled into rest mode, we all enjoyed excellent views of the many seals splayed about on the rocks. I saw one seal I recognized from last year that has a double net entanglement scar around its neck, and Linebelly was present, but not on his customary pointy rock.  Instead, he took up station on the table rock just to the left of his usual pointy perch, where he reclined in horizontal repose displaying his ample lined-marked belly for all to see. This is the seventh season that we have seen Linebelly at Rome Point; he is the first seal we identified with his distinctive scar and affinity for the prominent pointy rock. Now, there a over a dozen seals that I can recognize from spot patterns, scars, or coloration. A close review of past photos or video reveals that many seals are repeat visitors, but at any given time it depends on the position of the seals and whether their individual identifying marking are visible through the spotting scope.

12-19-2014  80 seals hauled-out; 36 degrees, wind NW 10, cloudy, 10:40
5 seals on far rock for 85 seals total.  Excellent seal watching today with abundant mature seals posed all over the rocks under fine light for up-close observation.  We quickly determined that our old friend Linebelly has returned once again to his pointy-rock perch, and there were at least 8 other seals present that we recognized from past years.  Immediately after we arrived, a boat closed in on the seal rocks to look at the seals. They chased about 40 seals off the rocks, but , thankfully the boat departed as soon as they realized that they were scaring the seals.  This disturbance made for a more interesting seal watch, as a good 20 seals returned to the rocks and engaged in entertaining haul-out activity, as well as some mild territorial disputes and a bit of porpoising.  We could have stayed all afternoon to enjoy today's very good seal sightings, but lately work, holiday, and family matters are making unusual demands on our free time, so we had to be satisfied with a brief seal hike in the midst of this most busy time of the year.

10-18-2014
  18 seals hauled-out; 68 degrees, wind SSW 15, partly cloudy, 10:30
The first seal watch of the fall 2014 season surprised us by being both interesting and fairly long in duration, as the seals showed determination to remain on the rocks in the face of a splashy, fast-rising tide. The big mature seals on the flat rock stayed on the rock well after the first waves encroached on their haul out, and a couple of seals even took to the water, then returned facing the opposite direction to shield their faces from the uncomfortable splashing waves.  A group of five seals on the ridge rock were perched high above the water, and managed to stay high and dry for an additional 45 minutes after all the other seals had departed.  These seals may have hung out even longer, but a boat showed up to fish around the rocks and spooked the last remaining seals away.  The seal rocks are a favored area for fishermen seeking tautog in the fall to try their luck; however, with seals in the area it seems that those who choose this area seldom manage to catch anything worthwhile. There are also some pots for channeled whelk (sometimes called conch) set in the area, so for the next month or so both seals and seal watchers can expect to have to share the haul-out rocks with fishermen occasionally.

2013-2014 Season

5-2-2014  36 seals hauled-out; 60 degrees, wind SW 10 to 15, partly cloudy, 15:45
Our last seal watch of the spring 2014 season was a typical late season affair, with mostly immature seals on the taller rocks and a smattering of big seals on a few of the low rocks closer to the waterline.  Also typical of a warm spring day was the frisky behavior of at least four pairs of seals, as this is the time of year when the female seals that were too young to breed last summer begin to attract the attention of prospective mates.  These seal couples writhed and splashed in both deep and shallow water, and on two occasions we watched a male put the moves on his as-yet-unwilling girlfriend.  One of the males did earn a prolonged seal kiss for his amorous effort, but it is still too soon for the females to be willing to consummate their relationship.  The seal soap opera (or was it a reality show?) continued for most of the time we were present on the beach this afternoon, keeping us entertained with interesting behavior that only happens on the warmer, sunnier spring days, which have been in short supply this year.  We left the beach glad to have been present to witness this annual rite of spring romance, and feeling like this was a fitting conclusion to the outstanding marine mammal observation we have enjoyed over the past six weeks.

4-27-2014  48 seals hauled-out; 50 degrees, wind N/NE 10 to 15, cloudy, 12:30.
Seal watching today was all about getting great close-up looks at the seals under excellent light for viewing through the spotting scope. There was not much interesting behavior to be seen, but the seals posed nicely with their backs to the NE winds and facing the Rome Point shore. That inescapable NE wind made for a slightly uncomfortable seal watch, but luckily the wind did not blow hard enough to shake the scope too much, and we were dressed warmly in anticipation of the chilly weather. We were also fortunate to enjoy the company of a steady stream of seal seeking families, which greatly increased the pleasure factor... and the length... of this seal watch. With our remaining days for seal watching this spring numbered, and a good number of juvenile seals hauled out on the tall rocks, we were happily compelled to spend almost 5 hours at Rome Point, enjoying good views of the seals and sharing friendly conversation with other seal watchers.

Around 11:00 a large flock of double-crested cormorants suddenly appeared, and about 70 of these big black birds landed and perched on the white rock, where they hunkered down facing into the wind for a good 3 hours. At 14:00 all living creatures on the rocks, save for one big seal, suddenly departed from the rocks for no apparent reason. We did not see exactly what happened, but either the seals spooked the cormorants or vice versa, as there was no real reason for all of these critters to leave the rocks at the same time. We waited to see what would happen and eventually 9 seals came back to the rocks; most of these seals were juveniles, including the yearling shown in the photo below.


4-25-2014  77 seals hauled-out; 60 degrees, wind NE 5 to calm to S 15, clear to high clouds, 11:00
1 seal on far rock for 78 seals total. Excellent seal watching was enjoyed by a number of fortunate seal seeking families this morning under uncharacteristically calm, well-lit conditions.  It was a real treat to enjoy the calm wind conditions for a change, especially at the end of a very windy week. The seals seemed especially content to enjoy the placid waters, and most of the seals were settled into their nap mode early in the ebb tide. Except, of course, when they were challenged by late arriving interlopers who wanted to share their rocks, which happened often enough to maintain a steady level of seal vocalization that resounded loudly across the bay.

At 11:30 about 35 seals spooked for no apparent reason off the center rocks, with the nice conditions, we were not the last bit surprised that all of these seals came back for a continued rest. This triggered a 20 minute flurry of the best territorial behavior and gruff vocalization that we observed this season. The cluster, the flat rock, and the low rocks in front of the table rock were all scenes of battle as the seals fought for their desired spots and let everyone know all about it....loudly. The fighting in front of the table rock was particularly ferocious, and appeared to be a continuation of an earlier grudge match. Interestingly, Linebelly's most favored pointy rock was abandoned by its stalwart occupant and was taken over by a seal with a golden tint to its fur, and Linebelly was nowhere to be found after the spooking event. At 12:35, the wind suddenly came up out of the south and the seals rapidly departed, bringing the days outstanding seal watch to a quick conclusion.

4-19-2014
  80 seals hauled-out; 60 degrees, wind NW 10 to 20, clear, 15:30
Very good seal watching this afternoon and early evening, with all the ingredients present that make four hours on the Rome Point beach fly by in the blink of an eye.  A good number of well positioned seals, excellent light quality for high magnification spotting scope viewing and lots of interested and friendly seal watching companions made this as fun of a seal watch as we have enjoyed all season. At around 15:40, about 60 of the hauled out seals spooked due to a contagious case of bad nerves; this resulted in a shuffling of the seal deck that always makes for an entertaining seal show. After the seals figured out that that there was no threat present, they returned to the rocks with a fair amount of vociferous fanfare as new resting rocks were selected... and defended. Its always interesting to see how many seals return to the rocks (they tend to choose different resting rocks after they have spooked) following one of these events; in this case, as best as we could tell every seal came back for more R&R. The wind died off just after the seals went for their swim, which probably helped to persuade the seals that an extended rest break was a good idea.

We met a lot of first-time visitors to Rome Point today, and everyone was suitable impressed by the seal show.  This was one of those days when families seemed to arrive perfectly spaced, so everyone got a long un-hurried look at the seals using the zoomed-in scope; many people had a chance to try their hand at taking photographs through the scope, and some folks were remarkably successful. Also remarkable was one little girl who displayed a level of acuity and attention when looking through the scope that inexperienced adults have difficulty achieving. We meet many children and grown-ups at Rome Point every season and there are always just a few who show exceptional aptitude for close, attentive nature observation; the little girl we met today was certainly top of the class for her age group (about 5 years old). We wonder what the future may hold for our talented little friend, but we are pretty sure that her father who was accompanying her will have many more occasions to be proud of her as she grows up.

At about 17:30, one boat arrived, followed shortly thereafter by another boat, so we lingered to see what would happen. The first boat held their distance for a while, but they finally succumbed to temptation and approached the rocks too closely, spooking about 50 of the seals. The second boat then took their turn and spooked 5 to 10 more seals, but by then the wind had picked up once more and the seal show for the day was pretty much over. We were fortunate to have a brisk NW wind in the afternoon to keep boats and kayaks away, but late in the day after the wind abated, we were once more witness to a rite of Spring watercraft harassment incident; this one symbolically signifying that the 2014 spring seal season will soon be coming to an end.

4-13-2014  140 seals hauled-out; 60 degrees, wind S 10 to 20, mostly cloudy, 11:30
The gusty south wind that served to hold the seal numbers down a bit today (from the recent records highs) brought some clouds into the area, which greatly improved the lighting conditions for the spotting scope. We arrived early and watched the seal numbers slowly increase from 17 to 140 over the course of two great hours of seal watching. As more seals arrived continuously, territorial skirmishes broke at various locations as the rocks gradually became accessible. First on the ridge rock, then on the left cluster, followed by action on the flat rock, center cluster and the low rocks surrounding the pointy rock, the seals fought to establish dominance and to procure their desired resting rocks. Other seals splashed and porpoised occasionally, and we got to at least a half dozen seal leaping in the magnified view of our spotting scope. With the advantage of excellent lighting, we were able to zoom in closely and identify a number of familiar seals, including the pair of Grey seal pups, a couple of seals we have seen before with netting entangled around their necks, several seals we recognized with distinctive scars or injuries, and the tell-tale spot patterns of six to ten Rome Point regulars.

By 11:30, we had enjoyed a full morning of outstanding seal observation, then, about half of the seal herd suddenly spooked into the water for no apparent reason. A good number of these seals returned to the rocks, leaving over 100 seals hauled out for two hours after the noon time low tide. We lingered late into the afternoon until only about 30 seals remained on the rocks, showing the seals to late arriving groups and chatting with several long-time seal watching acquaintances. On the hike back to the car, we reflected thankfully on the past five great days of seal watching and all of the nice people we met; while this seal season has had some weather and schedule challenges, we could not be more pleased with the way the 2014 seal watching season is rallying as the conclusion of spring seal watching draws near.

4-12-2014  191 seals hauled-out; 60 degrees, wind NW 10 to SE 10, hazy and humid, 11:15
6 seals on far rock for 197 seals total.  An exceptional morning of marine mammal observation, as the seals were significantly more active and vocal than they were yesterday.  The light for the scope was somewhat better too, allowing for better views of the seals.  The most notable behavior we observed was when Big Red the Grey seal decided to move from the tall rock on the left to the center cluster, without much regard for the numerous seals who already occupied the cluster rock.  As the larger Grey seal wedged its way onto the crowded rock, the harbor seals voiced their growling displeasure, and Big Red answered back with its own haunting mournful cry. It took determination and forceful shoving for Big Red to get the resting spot that it selected, but in the end, the smaller harbor seals were no match for their big Grey adversary.

Right after my seal count at 11:15, I observed a group of about 10 kayaks approaching from Wickford cove.  At first, I had hopes that this group was a guided kayak tour and that an experienced kayak guide would know better than to approach the seal haul-out rocks.  However, as the lead kayak struck a southerly course, I could tell that the seal watching was about to take a turn for the worse.  Sure enough, as the kayaks drew closer the seals bolted from the rocks with noisy and splashy abandon; one would think that the sight and sound of about 150 seals simultaneously fleeing in terror would make the kayakers think twice about continuing on to the rocks, but thinking was apparently not on the menu for this oblivious flotilla.  Instead, they spooked every seal off the rocks, then positioned themselves between the spooked seals and the haul-out rocks, thereby ensuring that almost no seals would return until the next turn of the tide.  We took the photo below of one seal high diving off a rock as the kayaks approached; within 5 seconds after this photo was taken, almost all of the hauled out seals took to the water with a roaring splash the likes of which we had never heard before.


Of course, after the seals were chased away, a good number of hopeful seal seekers were disappointed to discover that they were too late for the seal show; for us, this is the most dismaying aspect of the occasional seal disturbance incidents that we witness at Rome Point.  As long as the seals are not disturbed on a regularly recurring basis, we think the adverse effect on the animals is minimal, although it is certainly not good, especially for the very pregnant mature female seals.  Still, watching the second-largest number of seals we have ever seen at Rome Point get chased from their resting rocks did not leave us feeling as happy with our seal watch as we would have been if the numerous sleeping seals were not harassed today.

I had a rendezvous set up after my planned seal watch today, so, having nothing better to do for a couple of hours, I elected to stay on the beach for a while after the seals were spooked. It took about an hour, but eventually about five seals returned to the rocks to haul out.  One of these seals was the Grey seal pup that I observed close-up yesterday and is shown in the photo in the 4/11 entry. The seals that returned were unsettled by the disruption of their nap, and occasionally these seals would return to the water, and then haul out again in a manner that indicated how being disturbed affects the seal's behavior in the short term.  It will be interesting to observe tomorrow whether the seals are as well-settled as they have been the past several days, or if being chased from their resting rocks today has a visible effect on their behavior tomorrow morning.

4-11-2014  208 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind SW 5 to S 20, hazy and humid, 10:30
7 seals on far rocks for a new Rome Point seal count record of 215 seals!  The fact that a new seal count record was set today speaks for itself, as seal watching today was absolutely a marvelous spectacle of nature.  With so many seals on the rocks, the first two hours of our seal watch featured almost continuous territorial disputes and the associated gruff vocalization.  Not to be outdone, Big Red the Grey seal wailed regularly, with the distinctive moan of the Grey seal adding to the wild ambiance of this memorable occasion.  We took some great video and photos to document the big seal day early while the light was good, but later as the sun burned through the haze, the quality of light for telescopic observation was relatively poor.  This was not a much of a problem, because as the light was going bad, a Grey seal pup made its way to the shore and hauled out on a rock within 30 yards of our position in the trees.  This intrepid little seal hauled out several times on the nearby rock over the course of an hour at mid-day, providing exceptional close-up views for the visitors who timed their visit perfectly.  The photo below was taken through the scope before the little Grey was finally washed off the rock by the rising tide.



4-10-2014  175 seals hauled-out; 50 degrees, wind S 5 to 20, clear, 10:00
6 seals on far rock and 8 seals at Greene Point for 189 seals total!  A near-record seal count this morning with the second-largest number of seals we have seen at Rome Point in more than 600 seal observations. We spent most of the first hour on the beach counting seals repeatedly with high hopes of breaking our seal watching record of 194 seals. If the tide conditions had been more favorable (i.e. lower) or if the wind had not suddenly kicked up at 10:00, it is very possible that the record seal count would have been broken; however, once the south wind started howling, the number of seals started to drop a full hour before low tide. Some of the seals put on an aerial display upon their departure and other seals periodically squabbled over resting rocks, so we were entertained even after our hopes of setting a new seal count record were dashed.

One Grey seal from yesterday, Big Red, was perched high up on the far left tall rock, but without another Grey seal to sing to, Big Red was quiet today. Our long-time seal friend Linebelly was curiously perched on the pointy rock facing in the opposite direction; for the first time ever, Linebelly posed with his ample posterior facing the Rome Point Shore for the entire resting cycle. I don't know how many times we have observed Linebelly on the pointy rock, but it has to be more than 80 occasions; whatever possessed him to spin around and face the other way today is a little mystery that we will surely never solve. Hopefully, Linebelly will not find this new perch position to be more comfortable than his customary pose, as he does not look nearly as regal when viewed from behind.

4-9-2014 162 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind NW 5 to 10, clear to partly cloudy, 11:15
5 seals on far rocks and 5 seals at Greene Point for 172 seals total.  An outstanding seal day with many seals perched on submerged rocks, which made the seal counting more difficult than usual.  Today was a neap tide, meaning the difference between high and low tides is at a minimum.  Under these tide conditions, many rocks remain underwater, leaving less high and dry real estate for the seals to haul out upon. With so many seals competing for less rock square footage, territory battles are inevitable.  The seals did not disappoint, with numerous loud arguments clearly audible in the calm conditions. Every time we heard some commotion we scanned the rocks to locate the source of the disturbance, and we got to see a lot of seal fighting today.  However, with lots of seals partly submerged and packed together like sardines, it was sometimes difficult to locate the aggrieved parties, let alone get a good repeatable seal count.

Two seals that we were able to locate quickly were the pair of big Grey seals we spotted on the cluster rock.  One of these Greys has a distinct dark red coloration on its upper torso and head fur; we have seen this same seal here for the past three years and have named it Big Red in honor of its regular appearance in the Spring. Big Red was in fine form today, repeatedly singing in the moaning key of B flat that is characteristic of Grey seals.  This seal song added an unusual wild accent to the seal watching; while Grey seals may not be as photogenic as their Harbor seal cousins, they make up for their less attractive facial features with a call of the wild that is much more musical and appealing than the grunts and growls of put-upon Harbor seals.

3-29-2014  Estimated 130 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind SW 5, cloudy, 11:00
8 seals on far rocks for 138 seals total.  Fantastic seal watching today, with calm conditions, excellent light for the scope, and lots of territorial seals loudly defending their resting rocks. We were joined on the beach by a crowd of onlookers, many of whom were friendly families from the Fishing Cove School out for a seal watching adventure. No one was disappointed as the seals obliged with a lot of activity and vocalization that could be heard even over the excited exclamations of the many enthusiastic children present. Our granddaughter was along on this hike, and she enjoyed collecting whelk shells and finding crabs under the rocks while we shared the scope with everyone who wanted to take a close look at the seals. Between exploring with our little best friend and helping other families with the scope, we had little time for close seal observation, but we watched through binoculars and pointed out active seals to the children using the scope.  Fortunately, my granddaughter has recently been sharing her lessons in estimating with me, so I was able to come up with a quick count that is fairly accurate after a quick pass with the spotting scope, but today was mostly about sharing close-up views of the seals with all of the nice people we met on the beach.  

3-16-2014 107 seals hauled-out; 34 degrees, wind NW 20 to 10, clear, 14:00
11 seals on far rock for 118 seals total.  More great seal observation today, as we arrived early enough to watch many of the the seals arrive and haul out.  The seals stayed off the taller rocks, as they often do when the wind gusts are blowing strong around the time when the seals are hauling out.  The strong wind from the northwest was coming around the point and shaking the scope, so we took up station a bit to the south, at a more sheltered and sunny spot.  The water surface was stirred up with white capped waves, which reduces the amount of time the seals spend on the surface of the water as they approach the rocks.  Only a couple of seals porpoised completely out of the water; however, when the water is rough the seals will often exhibit tail-slapping behavior instead of the more dramatic breeching.  The tail-slappers provided steady entertainment, as did the seals on the crowded rocks who jostled to retain their resting spots.  

We watched one little seal carefully as it had chosen the flat rock for its nap location, right in the midst of a bunch of large mature seals.  At first, with only a half-dozen nearby neighbors, the intrepid little one was able to rest comfortably, but as more big seals arrived the available space on the flat rock was quickly occupied.  In the end, the little seal had no chance of staying on the flat rocks with the big boys, and was finally shoved off the rock to seek out a more hospitable resting rock.

3-15-2014 125 seals hauled-out; 52 degrees, wind SW 10 to 15, clear to partly cloudy, 13:00
5 seals on far rock for 130 seals total.  Excellent seal watching was enjoyed by a large contingent of weekend seal seekers on this most welcome temperate day.  The stiff southwest wind did not deter the seals at all from taking their rest, and there were seals of all sizes, ages, and colors splayed about on every exposed rock for early arriving seal watchers to see.  I suspected that the perfect seal setup was too good to last, and this premonition proved to be true with the arrival of a solo kayaker at 1:00.  This responsible and considerate paddler did all that could reasonably be expected to avoid spooking the seals; however, the immature seals on the tall rocks spotted him and took to the water from on high.  The resulting big splashes were sufficient to scare more than half of the seals into the water, so by the time the kayaker had passed by close to shore there were only 55 seals left on the rocks.  Their numbers were bolstered by about 15 seals who returned to the rocks, including Linebelly who ceremoniously hauled his fat self back up onto the pointy rock. The seals that remained were well posed to provide good views under average lighting conditions, so seal watchers who arrived after low tide still got to see 60 to 70 seals.  

When the kayaker passed back through the area on the incoming tide, he once again stayed close to shore and with the sentries on the tall rocks gone, he did not spook a single seal.  This was fortunate for our friends from RI Families in Nature who were out in force for their annual seal viewing hike.  Its great to see that this group has grown in number, as their intrepid leaders do a wonderful job of introducing families to the best nature experiences that Rhode Island has to offer.  We hope to see some of these friendly folks and their children out at Rome Point again sometime,perhaps exploring on their own, as with such a large group everyone does not get as long a turn at the telescope or as much info about these interesting animals as we would like to share.  

3-14-2014 96 seals hauled-out; 28 degrees, wind S/SW 10 to 15, clear to high clouds, 12:30
6 seals on far rock for 102 seals total.  Outstanding marine mammal observation today with the seals putting on a show the likes of which we have not seen since last March.  The seals were very active as they arrived, and we witnessed a dozen individuals porpoise repeatedly in todays, calm bay conditions. Not to be outdone, the seals on the rocks were also full of life, with territorial fighting observed on a number of the crowded rocks.  We spent three entertaining hours on the beach and observed several interesting seal interactions that I might normally relate here, but my energetic, playful granddaughter has just arrived so its play time now... and time for more seal watching fun tomorrow.  Suffice to say, this was far and away the best seal watch of the season so far.

3-1-2014 60 seals hauled-out; 28 degrees, wind S/SW 5 to 10, partly cloudy, 11:30
Our first seal walk in weeks found the seals in fine form and decent numbers, making for an entertaining seal watch for a group of elementary school age seal seekers who joined us on the beach today.  At one point, the local swans ventured out to the rocks to feed, and I remarked to the group that when the seals plunged their heads under water to feed, the seals sometimes find the sight of the ostensibly headless seals to be disturbing.  Sure enough, as the swans commenced feeding in front of the pointy rock, they attracted the attention of Linebelly, who was less than thrilled by the sight of the floating white lumps.  As Linebelly flopped off the pointy rock into the water, the commotion he created, along with the presence of the swans, spooked about 15 other seals off the nearby rocks. About 5 of these seals found other rocks to rest upon, leaving about 50 seals remaining for a good 1 1/2 hours.  The seal watching ended prematurely when a couple of paddle boarders noisily proceeded past the rocks, which spooked the entire seal herd completely out of the area.  It was well after low tide when the paddle boarders arrived, so the seals got a good rest; nonetheless, we will not be pleased if these paddlers make a regular weekend habit of scaring the seals away, especially as we progress into prime seal watching season over the next couple of weeks.

We took a late afternoon walk at Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge, and we enjoyed our closest-ever observation of a snowy owl as shown in the photo below.


2-4-2014 29 seals hauled-out; 40 degrees, wind NE 5 to calm, partly cloudy, 14:30
3 seals on far rock for 32 seals total.  We enjoyed a beautiful walk this afternoon through a snow-encrusted forest, as well as a fine seal watch that held our attention for longer than we had planned on this pleasant, calm winter day.  The light was very good for the scope, and the well-settled seals were scattered in picturesque poses on various rocks.  One seal put on a brief energetic show upon its arrival, porpoising 3 times and splashing about before settling on a rock.  We took the photo below of a group of seals that caught our eye for the variety of ways they balanced on the rocks they had chosen.

Up until about 3:00 pm, the seals were resting soundly, then, a crack like a rifle shot spiked through the air, followed by some loud splashes.  We quickly determined that the sharp crack must have been the seal on the far left in the photo above rolling off the rock and landing in the water with a resounding belly flop.  This unexpected maneuver spooked about 18 seals on the center rocks, who subsequently moved to other rocks, causing the predictable outcome of several territory battles.  The left side of the flat rock, and especially the rocks behind the pointy rock were scenes of feisty fighting on and off for almost 1/2 hour, with loud vocalization accompanying the biting and flipper slapping action.  In the end all of the seals that were spooked had returned to the rocks and found their place, while the little seal who started all the commotion hauled out alone on the cluster rock, in a manner that suggested it was being shunned for the bad behavior of scaring all of its neighbors.

2-2-2014 32 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind calm to SW 5, cloudy, 13:30
Another somewhat unusual, but good seal watch on this busy Sunday afternoon at Rome Point.  Shortly after we arrived a boat showed up and spooked all of the seals off the rocks north of the pointy rock, leaving 14 seals remaining on the rocks for a steady procession of seal spotting families to enjoy.  A number of seals slowly returned and as they sought easy-to-access rocks there was a good deal of infighting among seals for the rocks they wanted, similar to the behavior we observed last Thursday.  A couple of juvenile seals managed to somehow finagle a spot on the left side of the flat rock in a place normally reserved for full-grown members of the seal herd.  We remarked several times how unusual it was to see little seals on that rock with the big boys, until finally a large seal showed up and quickly dispatched both of these juveniles off the flat rock with a few well delivered bites and flipper slaps.

We once more enjoyed the company of lots of friendly seal watchers on this first temperate weekend day in recent memory.  Of particular note was the spunky little girl who plied us first with toasted marshmallows, then with smores, in exchange for a couple of good turns at the telescope.  The seals on the south rocks obliged everyone with good views throughout the afternoon and the occasional outbursts of territorial behavior, with the associated growls and barks, kept us entertained on a day when the were not an especially large number of seals to be seen.

2-1-2014
60? seals in the area; 35 degrees, wind calm to S 10+, partly cloudy, 11:45
4 seals on far rock for an uncertain total of about 64 seals.  The seals were on the move when we arrived at the beach, which explains the indefinite count for a strange but entertaining afternoon of seal watching.  We fell down the weather rabbit hole of "wind, light and variable" today; when this prediction is in the forecast, variability in seal behavior is often observed.  Immediately upon our arrival we watched as the seals on the south rocks were spooked into the water by a large floating ice chunk.  We have seen this before, as the seals are unnerved by low-profile silently approaching objects in the water, which they apparently perceive as a threat.  Some of the swimming seals hauled out on and around the center cluster, while other seals departed from the area after the iceberg incursion.  Meanwhile, other seals on the north end of the rocks remained unperturbed, and for a while it seemed as though the seals were going to settle down under calm conditions.

Just as the estimated 40 seals that remained were settling into rest mode, the wind kicked up from the south, which got the seals moving once more.  As the south wind built and we sought shelter in the trees, so the seals headed for shelter as well; some in the water and some on lower, more protected rocks.  By the time Linebelly slid off the pointy rock, the best of today's seal watching was over.  The seal seeking families who arrived in the late afternoon were still treated to good views of about 20 seals, including two late arriving juvenile seals who struck an attractive pose on a low rock to the left of the flat rock.  We enjoyed the company of some of our long-time seal watching friends today, as well as their friendly dogs Elsie and Buttercup who always wait patiently while their owners check out the seals.

1-31-2014 79 seals hauled-out; 35 degrees, wind SW to W 10, cloudy, 14:00
5 seals on far rock for 84 seals total.  A remarkable afternoon at Rome Point with numerous seals, great conditions, and a good show of typical mid-winter seal behaviors on display.  The tide was as low as we have ever seen it, and over 70 seals were hauled out high and dry when we arrived almost 2 1/2 hours before low tide.  One auspicious sign was a yearling seal perched on the white rock, which is only be accessible to seals on the most robust spring tides.  The good number of seals present were continuously interesting to observe, and sporadic vocalization was heard throughout the afternoon.  Lots of other wildlife made periodic appearances as well, including golden eye, bufflehead, mergansers and mallards, a sharp shinned hawk that came in low and fast, red and gray squirrels, and a great horned owl that startled me with a couple of loud hoots on the walk back to the parking lot.  

Overall, nature observation today was much better than yesterday, leaving us with a hint of regret that the charter school group we met yesterday had not selected today instead for their seal walk.  Such are the ways of wildlife observation, two similar days in terms of tide and weather, one day an outstanding nature show, the other day average at best.  We are very fortunate to be able to devote a good deal of time to wildlife watching and our appreciation for the best days continues to run deep and true as the years pass.  Sometimes we encounter people on our outings who have fortunately stumbled upon an extraordinary nature experience, but who may not recognize their good fortune, perhaps thinking that every day on the beach or in the mountains is like a National Geographic TV special.  Experienced nature observers who have put a in lot of time over the years have learned to truly value the rare opportunities to see something extra-special... or a perfectly fine day like today when all the ingredients combine to create a memorable nature adventure to be treasured for years to come.

1-30-2014 22 seals hauled-out; 25 degrees, wind calm to SE 5, clear, 11:15
7 seals on far rock for 29 seals total.  Not many seals today when we first arrived, initially, the seals were outnumbered by seal watchers.  A good-sized contingent of seal seekers from a charter school was on the beach checking out the half-dozen seals that  hauled out early in today's astronomical low tide.  The group did get to see some seals, but they had arrived a little early, moreover, they made enough commotion to affect the seals' behavior as the seals arrived to haul out.  It is rare to see human activity on the Rome Point shore influence the seals behavior, but with today's calm conditions sound carried very well and the seals were obviously aware of the presence of the numerous people on the shore.

It was interesting to observe how the seals were a little unsettled by the large group of onlookers on the beach as a few swimming seals spy-hopped and other seals hauled out momentarily then re-entered the water. After about 20 minutes, most of the group left the beach; almost immediately, the seals started to haul out and settle into their typical resting mode.  By this time the tide had receded pretty far, so the big seals hauled-out on easily accessible low lying rocks and the flat rock.  The seal watchers who lingered on the beach had a much better view of seals and a few got to see the seals hauling out and splashing about. The best of the seal watching took place in the half-hour immediately after the school group departed, as more seals hauled out and an easterly breeze carried the sounds of seal vocalization toward the shore.  There was some territorial behavior as several large seals were disinclined to share their precious easy-to-access low rocks, these seals barked and slapped at the interlopers until all the seals found good rocks to call their own.

The group that came out to see the seals today was not especially noisy most of the time and did not disturb the seals unduly, but the size of the group and a few loud episodes were sufficient to make the seals aware of their presence.  This only delayed a few seals hauling out for maybe a half-hour and was harmless; in fact, the slight seal/human interaction made the seal observation more interesting for us, as we almost never get to see the seals affected by human activity on the beach.  Today's seal watch served to remind us that: (1) the seals may notice large groups of people on the shore when the conditions are calm and the group is making some noise, and (2) the seals are especially sensitive to disturbance that takes place while they are arriving to haul out.  We were glad for the lesson that the school group taught us and, hopefully, groups of seal seekers who come to Rome Point will pay heed... especially on better days when lots of seals are around: a quiet and focused demeanor will invariably provide for a superior nature observation experience.  

1-20-2014 23 seals hauled-out; 40 degrees, wind SW 10, cloudy, 15:30
3 seal on far rock for 26 seals total.  Good light for the scope and a good turnout of MLK holiday seal seekers combined to make for a fun afternoon on the Rome Point shore.  Many first-time visitors were treated to close-up views of the seals, all of whom were curiously perched on rocks to the north of the pointy rock.  The seals seemed to be a bit nervous around haul-out time, probably as a result of unsettled weather from passing and advancing frontal boundaries.  No doubt this contributed to the smaller than average number of seals hauled out today, but no one who got to see the seals through the scope seemed to mind, and we were happy for the excellent optical conditions that allowed for zoomed-in viewing.  We saw the seal with the double net entanglement for the first time since October; this seal still appears healthy and the net cord does not seem to be cutting through the seal's fur.  Another seal we saw was Linebelly, who for some reason did not summon up the motivation to climb to the top of the pointy rock today.  Instead, he rested on another rock just behind his customary perch, occasionally using the pointy rock as a pillow to support his ample upper torso and head.

1-19-2014 16 seals hauled-out; 30 degrees, wind SW 25+, clear, 13:30
1 seal on far rock for 17 seals total.  An interesting seal walk with high winds churning the bay.  Rough seas sometimes affect the way the seals behave in a manner which is fun to observe, as the seals take more time and mettle to settle on the splashy rocks.  A strong southwest wind is probably the best setup to see how the seals maneuver in heavier seas, because the seals will usually show up to haul out on a southwest wind even when the wind is howling as it was today.  Seals repeatedly hauled out on some rocks then returned to the water as waves and wind-blown spray interrupted their relaxation.  Some seals showed their frustration with the conditions by jumping and tail-slapping before they found a suitable rock to rest upon.  Linebelly hauled out on the pointy rock in his typical self-assured manner, to the delight of a group of seal seekers who timed their visit just right to see the Rome Point Kingpin in action.  Seals were still arriving as we left early in the ebb tide to catch the football games, and interesting seal observation probably continued through the afternoon after our departure.
 
1-17-2014 52 seals hauled-out; 40 degrees, wind S/SW 10, clear, 13:30
3 seals on far rock for 55 seals total.  A good seal watch again today, with a fair number of seal hauled out under good optical conditions. We did not have much time for seal watching, and after a couple of our regular seal watching friends left around 2:00 pm, no other visitors ventured out to see the seal this afternoon.  The seals were settled into heavy rest mode for our entire visit and the most interesting animal behaviors we saw were exhibited by bufflehead and golden eye ducks.  We did note one seal that had a long ragged scar on its belly, and several seals posed in picture perfect positions, but for the most part, today's seal watch was not particularly entertaining.

1-16-2014 72 seals hauled-out; 40 degrees, wind calm to N 5 , cloudy, 13:00
6 seals on far rock for 78 seals total.  Very good seal watching today, with seals all over the rocks under calm conditions that proved to suit the seal herd just fine.  Sound carries very well on humid calm days so we were able to hear the seals vocalizations exceptionally clearly for the first time this season.  There were seals on most of the tall rocks and at least 5 yearlings were hauled out... the most juvenile seals we have spotted so far this season.  We arrived to late too see much active behavior as the seals must have arrived especially early in the tide, as they will often do when the wind is calm.  Several small groups of seal seekers made their way out to the seal observation beach while we were there, and all in attendance were pleased with the seal sightings we were privileged to enjoy today.

1-1-2014 43 seals hauled-out; 28 degrees, wind SW 10 , clear, 12:00
6 seals on far rock for 49 seals total.  A sociable seal watch with holiday good spirits in evidence among the merry seal watchers who hiked out to Rome Point for a New Year's day seal stroll.  The seals were mostly well settled and obliged everyone with good views of hauled out harbor seals under pretty good lighting conditions.  There was a little bit of activity among the seals when 6 seals on the right low rocks took to the water, then hauled out again amidst the seals on the south rocks.  This caused just enough disruption to create interesting observations for some lucky folks who had not had the opportunity to to see territorial interaction between seals before.  We had other obligations for the afternoon which cut our seal watch short, but as we packed to leave we were pleased to see that the kayakers who paddled through the area stayed close to the shoreline as they rounded the point, thereby avoiding spooking the seals.  The many families we passed on our way out all benefited from the actions of the considerate paddlers, who thoughtfully left the seal herd undisturbed for the viewing pleasure of everyone.  We hope this kind gesture proves to be a good omen for the year to come, both at Rome Point and for the whole big wide world.

12-31-2013 34 seals hauled-out; 29 degrees, wind NW 10 to SW 10 , cloudy, 12:45
6 seals on far rock for 40 seals total.  More great seal watching today, especially after some high clouds moved in, which greatly improved the optical conditions for telescopic observation. A number of seals were on the same rocks as they occupied yesterday; not so Linebelly, who moved to a low-lying rock that appears to have become his second favorite resting place.  A seal with netting tightly wrapped around its neck was hauled out on the slanted rock, where it could be closely observed; so far this fat seal seems to be none the worse for its unfortunate circumstance.  The seal's rest was a bit less settled today than it has been, and some seals arrived late in the astronomical low tide to boost the seal count over the 30 mark.  However, the unexpected arrival of a single kayak at 1400 chased all the seals from the rocks... even more unexpectedly, this triggered the start of the most interesting seal behavior we observed over the past three days.

After the seals left the rocks, we hung around to see if the seals were going to return.  In most cases, when the seals are disturbed 1 1/2 hours after low tide, they will not haul out again until the next resting cycle. This is what we expected to see today, and when there were no seals visible anywhere at 1430, we thought for sure this seal watch was over.  However, wild animals are full of surprises, so when a single big seal suddenly appeared on top of a mostly submerged rock, we stopped in our tracks and set up the scope again to watch.  Soon two other seals hauled out, then, a half dozen bobbing heads suddenly appeared around the flat rock.  While some of these seal clambered up onto the flat rock, two of these seals put on an outstanding acrobatic display of porpoising behavior; between them, they made at least 12 energetic jumps completely out of the water, as well as a number of less well executed splashy plunges.  It looked like these seals had uncorked a bottle of champagne to ring in the new year and their celebration had us exclaiming out loud in amazement.  After the acrobatic show, the remaining 13 seals settled into a heavy rest mode as if trying to get a good nap in before the midnight festivities.  The seals had one more surprise in store as the kayaker returned to the area again, following the same course that spooked all of the seals 1 1/2 hours before.  When the seals on the flat rock snapped to alert status and flinched towards the water, it seemed that the seals extended nap was over; however, only one seal took the plunge and as the kayaker passed, the seals quickly settled down again to finish their afternoon sleep.

12-30-2013 57 seals hauled-out; 35 degrees, wind W10 to NW 15+ , cloudy, 11:45
6 seals on far rock for 63 seals total. A fine seal watch today, made even more so by the pleasant company of numerous nice families out in pursuit of a holiday vacation nature adventure.  The seals did not disappoint, as they rested calmly for an extended period of time due to combination of an astronomical low tide and a wind that held the rising tide at bay.  A number of seals were perched in attractive poses to show off, providing exceptional views through the spotting scope.  The best sighting of the day was one late-arriving seal who made a big production out of hauling out.  This seal first approached the beach to check me out, then proceeded out to a low-lying rock where it splashily hauled-out... and jumped back in the water... six times in quick succession.  On two occasions this seal pawed at the seaweed and mussels on the top of this rock with the claws on its front flippers, as if trying to smooth the rock's surface for enhanced belly comfort.  The seal even tried to gnaw a seaweed/mussel clump off the rock with its teeth, which is a behavior we had never seen before in over 600 seal observations.  

12-29-2013 75 seals hauled-out; 43 degrees, wind SW 5, cloudy, 11:15
5 seals on far rock for 80 seals total.  A great holiday season seal watch today, with twice as many seals hauled out and excellent optical conditions for close-up viewing. We recognized a half dozen regular seal visitors, and spotted a lone yearling seal as well as another seal with a new entanglement issue.  The seals were already hauled out and settled long before we arrived, taking advantage of the ideal calm conditions to enjoy an extended rest.  We arrived too late to observe the most interesting haul-out activity, but the consolation prizes of outstanding views of the seal herd and the company of several groups of pleasant seal seekers made this a most enjoyable outing.  The only down side was that it was necessary to cut our visit short due to the impending rain storm, but that did not really detract from the best seal hike we have had so far this season, as we managed to return to the parking area before the downpour commenced.  However, we left suspecting that some visitors who did not pay as close attention to the weather radar were less fortunate.  We use this website to keep track of precipitation when the weather report is sketchy: Intellicast Radar.  With practice we have become adept at timing our outdoor activities to precisely coordinate our arrivals and departures with the onset or end of a rain/snow event; thereby increasing our confidence that an outing will not be spoiled by a bad weather surprise.

12-21-2013 38 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind SW 20 decreasing to 10, clear to high clouds, 15:30
4 seals on far rock for 42 seals total.  Much better seal watching than yesterday with familiar seals on the rocks and some friendly seal watchers on the shore.  We enjoyed this warm winter afternoon and stayed on the beach for the better part of 3 hours, taking advantage of the great weather to make close observations of the seals.  I was able to identify at least five seals that we have seen here before, most notably the kingpin Linebelly, who managed to haul his hefty self up onto the pointy rock, where he will  hold court for another season.  We noted the presence of duck hunters in the back cove, and while the shotgun volley we heard this afternoon did not seem to bother the seals, perhaps the possibility of other hunters in the area might explain why the seals were both scarce and nervous yesterday.  The seals were much more settled today and we only observed occasional brief displays of interesting behavior as the seals rested peacefully.  As we were leaving around 4:00 pm a couple of kayakers arrived and managed to chase most of the seals from the rocks; even though the kayaks did not approach the rocks, the seal's sensitivity to the presence of the low-riding, silent watercraft was shown once more today.

12-20-2013 10 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind S/SW 10, cloudy, 15:00
3 seals on far rock for 13 seals total. A perplexing afternoon on the seal beach, with a small number of nervous seals gradually gathering for their rest break. Conditions seemed fine for a large seal gathering, but apparently the seals did not get the memo, as we arrived to find only 2 seals hauled out on the exposed rocks 1 1/2 hours before low tide.  The temperate weather made me suspicious that the perhaps the seal herd was chased away by watercraft before we arrived, but I never saw any boats around or any other evidence to support this unlikely theory.  As a few more seals trickled in over the next hour, I noticed that all of the seals seemed nervous, scanning all around while never settling into nap mode.  We did get to see a brief flurry of aquatic activity with a couple of seals porpoising as they arrived at the rocks, but for the most part the seal observation today was mostly notable for the surprisingly small number of anxious seals that were around on a day when we expected to see a lot more seals.

12-13-2013 36 seals hauled-out; 28 degrees, wind SW 10 to 15+, partly cloudy to clear, 12:10
3 seals on far rock for 39 seals total. A most relaxing and rewarding seal walk today for our first Rome Point outing in way too many weeks.  Conditions were perfect for seal observation with a westerly wind and an astronomical low tide, however, our first impression was disappointment at the surprisingly low number of seals present at low tide. After about a half hour, we settled into our familiar nature observation routine and sure enough, the magic of Rome Point was revealed as the work-a-day world gradually faded from mind and spirit.  A pair of seals started to cavort and splash playfully; this dynamic duo continued to entertain by carrying on sporadically for the next hour, which is an unusual length of time for seals to remain unsettled. As these seals finally sought out their resting rocks, late arriving reinforcements arrived to boost the number of seals to a respectable showing.

There was plenty of available rock space, but one big seal tried twice to scale the slanted rock; this seal did not succeed, as the rock stood too high out of the water because of the extra-low tide.  The frustrated seal swam around for a few minutes showing some apparent irritation before it selected a new, low lying rock for its haul out location. The next rock on the menu was already occupied by a large seal, but this did not deter the even bigger seal that was determined to seize the rock. The seal on the rock proved to be no match for the hefty aggressor, who wisely took advantage of the easy access to the low rock to t-bone the resting seal in the midsection, sending it tumbling off its perch. Then, as the over sized seal pivoted to settle into a comfortable resting position, the identity of the big Kahuna was revealed to be Rome Point stalwart Linebelly... back for another season bigger than ever and even more aggressive.  It will be interesting to see if Linebelly throws his considerable weight around to procure more easily accessible rocks as the season progresses... or if he is still agile enough to make the climb to the top of his long-time favorite pointy rock after packing on another 60 or 70 lbs over the summer. Only time will tell, and we left the beach looking forward to spending much more time at Rome Point as we move into heart of the the winter seal watching season.

10-18-2013 18 seals hauled-out; 65 degrees, wind SW 10 to 15, partly cloudy, 12:25  First seal walk for Fall 2013 season.
We finally made time for a quick seal walk this afternoon and were rewarded with a very interesting seal observation... for the 15 minutes that it lasted.  We counted about 20 seals on the rocks from way down the beach, but by the time we made it to the point there were more seals swimming around than there were on the rocks.  The seals were obviously agitated, with a fair bit of splashing and some jumping action going on as the seals hauled out again.  We counted quickly as a sailboat approached, which was good because with one flap of the mainsail, all of the seals took to the water.  Most seals stayed around for several minutes, but the boat was slow to depart and at one point made some maneuver that served to frighten the seals sufficiently so that four seals simultaneously made a big splashy commotion as they fled.

That big splash signaled the end of the seal observation, but not before we spotted several unusual sightings on the rocks.  Most notable was the presence of a Great Blue Heron on the seal rocks; a sight we have never seen before in over 550 observations. "Blues" are a most favored good luck talisman in our world, so the sight of a blue heron was an auspicious favorable omen that we were very pleased to see.  Less pleasing was the sight of a seal with two loops of netting around its neck; this double entanglement was another first for the seal sighting chronicles.  Both loops of net cord were tight around the animal's neck, but the seal did not appear to be in distress.  These two unique observations made this first seal walk of the season worthwhile, and the flurry of seal activity provided an interesting, albeit brief, marine mammal observation.

We returned for a quick check on the seals on Saturday, but a perfunctory look-see from the end of the road revealed boats and kayaks in the area, but no seals on the rocks.  This is to be expected on a warm, calm weekend day; however, in just a couple of weeks as temperature drop and blustery winds pick up we expect that the seals will be left undisturbed on most days.

2012-2013 Season


4-26-2013
25 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind SE 10 to 15, clear, 12:00  Last seal walk for Spring 2013 season.
We made time for a fast seal walk at noon today and enjoyed a quick picnic on the beach with no one else around on this beautiful Spring day.  Seals will probably remain in the bay for several more weeks, but our attention will be diverted to other pursuits and pastimes as the weather warms up.  The brisk south wind was not the best for seal observation, as has been the case for the last two weeks; but we were glad to have one last look at the seals of Rome Point before we make our way to Maine to work... and to seals next weekend. Our Rome Point seal watching season ended today, but that merely signifies a change of seasons to other nature explorations; by 2:30 in the afternoon we were being serenaded by a chatty kingfisher as we launched our first kayak outing of 2013 on the Wood river.

The following end of season essay was composed and uploaded on May 5, 2013

The past seal season featured a number of significant highlights, including excellent early-season seal observations, newly revealed insights into the seals' behavior, and outstanding seal watching from late February through early April.  There was a rough stretch in December when the seals were being chased away more often than usual by watercraft, and for the second season running we spotted lower numbers of juvenile seals.  In addition, the weather and tides could have cooperated better during the holidays and the school vacation weeks, but all told the seal watching this season was on par with past years in terms of being both interesting and enjoyable as far as we are concerned.  It did seem as though the weekends did not generally feature especially good seal watching, which was unfortunate for those seal seekers who do not have a chance to visit Rome Point as regularly as we do.

Some changes at Rome Point were notable, with storm damage including downed trees on the trails and significant shoreline erosion.  It looks like additional attention is being paid to this gem of a preserve by the RI Dept. of Environmental Management Parks division, which we hope will ultimately result in the construction of sorely needed rest room facilities.  The increasing presence of invasive species in the inter tidal zone was troublesome, and the prospect of expanded aquaculture operations in the bay has us on the alert in case intervention is necessary to protect the seals' haul-out habitat. We also missed the company of a few Rome Point regular visitors from seasons past with whom we did not cross paths with this season, and we hope they are faring well.

This past season, we have found our walks at the Rome Point preserve ever more invaluable in providing a personal refuge from the everyday trials and tribulations of modern life. From harsh reality of Newtown and Boylston Street, to partisan political polarization, to crony hyper-capitalism on steroids, to economic uncertainty for many families, all taking place against a background of noise of media cacophony documenting daily assaults to decency and sensibility, we seek shelter... and Rome Point always provides. We are so fortunate to have this interesting nature playground available to all citizens to come and go as they please, and our own lives would be significantly less fulfilled... and more stress-filled... if we did not have the Rome Point seals to keep us occupied, amused, and invigorated during the winter months.

Our hikes at Rome Point never fail to cure cabin fever, and can be an antidote to the insidious "information fever" that is, in our view, afflicting society at all levels.  The information revolution in the form of smart phones and social media surely has a place in our lives, but as with all technology there are pitfalls to be avoided; and as the virtual world becomes more of a focal point of human existence, we sense that dangerous game is afoot. We are seeing more signs of a "kid-in-the-information-candy-store" mentality, wherein the mindful mastery of technology is replaced by an "all-you-can-eat" info-buffet that that may prove to be a less than desirable evolutionary adaptation.  We are far from technological Luddites, and I work with highly sophisticated electronic technology routinely in my business, but I am master and the gadgets are the servants in my work, whereas some of the info-tech interactions I have witnessed have made me pause to consider whether the roles of master and servant are undergoing a reversal in our society today.

Just yesterday I watch in amazement as 5 twenty-something young adults, in two groups, all whipped out smart phones within 20 seconds of being seated in a pub-restaurant setting and proceeded to interact with their appliances with much greater attention than they gave to their peers... let alone to anyone else in their vicinity.  Only after an initial flurry of on-line activity did they start to have conversations, the gist of which were based on, or were steadily supplemented by, their interweb info consumption. Interestingly, as one conversation turned to activities in Acadia Park, I was struck by the fact that a knowledgeable Acadia hiker and nature guide (me) was sitting only three feet away, but it would have never occurred to them to engage with a living human who knows current info about wind and tide and road/trail closures and where the best hikes are for the current conditions.  It struck me that their reliance on information technology was actually causing these affluent, well-educated young people to be less informed than the old school approach of striking up a conversation in a bar, and it made me sad to think of the opportunity lost for them as well as for myself.

We have seen some of this at Rome Point as well, and it has caused me to be more tentative about telling visitors that we encounter on the beach about this website.  On several occasions while observing seals, when I mentioned that I maintained a website about Rome Point, smart phones were immediately produced and the site was loaded, despite the fact that the seals... and the whole nature experience of the water and the beach and the wind and the birds and the people was right there before our very eyes.  Something about this reflexive behavior has struck me as incongruous and disheartening, almost as though the experience is not real until validated by the Internet.  On the other hand, people are finding this website on their own and we get nothing but positive comments about how useful and informative it is from the families who want to know when, where, and how to see seals at Rome Point.  This serves to illustrate the point that technology is best used as a tool, with a clear objective in mind; otherwise, it is far too easy to fall down the Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole of mindless drifting on the information superhighway... or worse yet, to begin to live in Wonderland itself.  In our view, just as mindful nature observation is far better than an aimless walk in the woods, the relaxed, purposeful use of technology holds great potential for personal and societal enrichment, but we fear that undisciplined feasting at the techno-banquet is having a serious disruptive influence on the mental well-being of some adults, and most disturbingly, more than a few children.  Walk around in the forest aimlessly for long enough and you are bound to get lost... keep on going, and you might not ever be able to find your way again.

Fortunately, our own blessings are many and we have somehow sustained the ability to hold our course true as we make our way from season to season.  May all who read this be similarly blessed, and may a map and compass always be at hand to guide you on your way.  The satellite GPS you hold in your hand could fail at any time and may lead you astray in a lot of different ways.  No technology will ever steer as true a course in life as the sun, stars, and magnetic poles, besides, by staring obsessively at the GPS every three steps you risk missing the amazing panorama of the natural world and its human inhabitants.  That's a steep price to pay, there is no taking back a wasted day, and we hope to meet you again as we follow our own way to the next season of the seals.

4-21-2013 36 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind N10 to 15, clear, 11:00
A shift in the wind direction and a more favorable morning low tide made for more seals hauled out on the rocks today than we have seen for the past week.  It looks like most of the seals have moved out of the bay, but we recognized several of the stalwart seals that we have been seeing all winter.  Now that the bay water temperature is higher than 50 degrees F, we know from past observations that the seal watching season is almost over.  The best birdwatching season of the year is about to begin, and this change of season was heralded by an immature bald eagle that flew right over the rocks as we were packing up to leave.  We were glad to enjoy such an unusual sighting on this day when the seal watching was not especially entertaining.

4-17-2013 5 seals hauled-out; 65 degrees, wind S10 to 15+, clear, 16:00
The wind was slightly less annoying this afternoon when we first arrived, but the breeze picked up smartly as we were walking up the beach.  We have seen a building south wind that increases in velocity right as the seals should be hauling out spoil the seal watching before, so we were not surprised at all when that happened today.  The few seals that were hauled out when we arrived were not joined by any others seals as the wind speed increased.  The consolation prize was once again provided by a pair of frolicking, flirtatious seals, who put on a short but impassioned display much closer to shore than the seals we watched yesterday.

4-16-2013 0 seals hauled-out; 60 degrees, wind S20+, clear, 15:30
It was way too windy for good seal observation today, and the tide was not favorable either, so we had low expectations for seal watching.  The seals surprised us with a brief, fine show of active courtship behavior that took place in the middle of the bay in the direction of the "yellow house".  We often observe seals swimming in this area and on this day the seal show was staged far away from the haul out rocks. We watched two pairs of seals frolicking and romping for about a half-hour, with nose-nuzzling and and splashy interaction revealing the seal's amorous intentions.  The best sighting was an adult seal riding on another seal's back, which we actually observed twice in 15 minutes; we have seen pups riding on their mother's backs before in Maine, but never adult seals carrying on this way.  These seals were at least 3/4 mile away and the scope was needed to observe them closely, but these seals saved the day for seal watching, as any day when we see behavior that we have never observed before is a good seal watch in our opinion.

4-13-2013
78 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind NE 5 to S 10-15, partly cloudy, 13:45
2 seals on far rock for 80 seals total. An unusual seal watch today, with the peak number of seals observed 2 hours before low tide. The wind shifted to the south and picked up markedly at 13:50; then, seals started to leave the south rocks and the seals that were milling around in the water quickly vanished. By the time Linebelly took to the water at 14:15, the seal count was down to 65, where it remained for the remainder of the afternoon. The light was good for the scope and there were a fair number of seal seekers out and about, so we stayed late into the afternoon. We did spot one seal with a new net entanglement; the frayed white nylon was clearly visible, which served to differentiate this seal from another seal with a tight netting collar that was also present on the rocks. We did not get to see much interesting seal behavior today, and the most interesting aspect of today's seal watch was the way that the south wind acted like seal repellent. As soon as the wind shifted south and picked up speed, no additional seals hauled out and the seal that were on rocks with a southern exposure left the rocks. A few of these seals found other suitable rocks to rest on, but all in all the south wind had a definite adverse impact on seal observation today.

4-9-2013 145 seals hauled-out; 70 degrees, wind SW 10, clear, 11:45
5 seals on far rock and 3 at Greene Point for 153 seals total. Very good seal watching today with the warmest temperatures since last April. The seals were well-settled when we arrived, but at noon almost the entire herd spooked for no apparent reason. Maybe the seals were overheating in the hot, mid-day sunshine; we took shelter in the shade to cool off after 45 minutes on the beach. More likely, the seals were just nervous, as often happens when lots of seals are on the rocks. In any event, there were only 25 seals left on the rocks after the herd spooked, but this situation was quickly rectified as many of the swimming seals returned to the rocks to continue their rest. We have seen this before and know what to expect: battles for the prime resting rocks invariably follow one of these false-alarm spooking events when large numbers of seals are present. The seals did not disappoint with half-a-dozen good territorial battles observed in short order, some of which involved 4 to 6 seals. By 1:00pm, 103 seals were hauled-out and we enjoyed a marvelous spring afternoon sharing the scope (under unfortunately poor light conditions) with the fortunate folks who wandered out to Rome Point to enjoy this fair weather seal watch.

4-7-2013 40 seals hauled-out; 50 degrees, wind S 20+, clear, 12:00
Our seal watch today was better than expected considering the adverse wind conditions, and we were pleased to be able to view the seals from the shelter of the cedar trees, as the beach was too exposed to a harsh south wind. The bay was roughed up by breaking whitecaps and we did not get to see much interesting seal behavior, but the light was good for the scope so everyone got to see seals posing accommodatingly in spite of marginal weather conditions. We spotted the red-headed Grey seal on the cluster, a seal with a net entanglement on the low rocks to the left of the twins, and several other fine specimens on the slanted rock and flat rock. The highlight of the day for us was our granddaughter's best telescope observation ever and her first seal counting experience that was a little short on accuracy, but served to provide us with good assurance that this almost six year old child is gaining some proficiency at wildlife observation. All in all we enjoyed a fine hike; even if the marine mammal observation aspect was a bit lacking, we were thrilled to have four generations of our family participate in our seal walk, which is a memorable occasion that we have not experienced before in over 550 seal walks.

3-23-2013 102 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind W 20+, clear, 11:30
6 seals on far rock for 108 seals total.  The seals showed exceptional tolerance for the west wind by hauling out early in the ebb tide and staying on the rocks until splashing, crashing waves drove them from the rocks as the tide came in. The light was much better for the scope today, so all the seal seeking families who made it out to Rome Point were rewarded with nice close-up views of the seals. Everyone who braved the wind today was pleased that the beach was sheltered from the wind and the warm sun inspired basking from seals and seal watchers alike. The seals arrived at the haul-out rocks much earlier today, and the tide was quite a bit lower than our tide chart prediction for some mysterious reason, so we were a little too late arriving to catch the active behavior that we observed yesterday; but with the bay conditions so rough, its likely that the seals were less active anyway.

3-22-2013 90 seals hauled-out; 40 degrees, wind W 10 to 15+, clear, 11:30
6 seals on far rock for 96 seals total.  A fine seal watch this morning with active seals putting on a good show of carousing and courtship behavior.  The warm March sun served to get the seals stirred up, with lots of porpoising and a fair bit of playful interaction on display. One seal jumped five consecutive times and the general mood of the arriving seals was feisty and energetic.  Not so playful were the occasional skirmishes that broke out on the cluster rock, which involved half-a-dozen seals on several occasions. The beach was sheltered from the west wind, which made for comfortable seal watching for the few seal seekers who were out and about this morning basking in the sun.  However, the bright mid-day sun this time of the year is often detrimental to the optical conditions for telescope observation, which was the only downside to a very good three hours of seal observation that we enjoyed today.

3-17-2013 11 seals hauled-out; 42 degrees, wind NW 15 to 25+, partly cloudy 15:30
2 seals on far rock for 13 seals total.  The most disappointing seal watch in many moons today, with windy conditions that were not in the forecast. The wind peaked with gusts around 30 mph right at the wrong time... just as the seals were arriving to haul out.  At first we were hopeful that the seals would not be deterred when a couple of seals hauled out on the ridge rock, but by the time these two seals dove back into the water it was apparent that today was not destined to be the big seal day we were hoping for.  We observed about a dozen seals swim up to the rocks, take stock of the situation, then disappear back into the choppy waters.  Fortunately some seals that arrived before the wind got out of hand and a couple of late arrivals provided very good views for the fair number of onlookers who showed up in the late afternoon, so all in attendance has a chance to see seals... just not the amazing seal observation that has been taking place on good days for about the past 3 weeks.

3-16-2013 120 seals hauled-out; 40 degrees, wind NE 5 to S 10, partly cloudy 14:50  
6 seals on far rock for 126 seals total. The seals were out early in the tide with 60 seals on the rocks more than 3 hours before low tide; the seals enjoyed lounging around on submerged rocks under the calm conditions.  One seal that did not enjoy its resting spot for too long was the hapless seal that tried to take Linebelly's pointy rock. We had just determined that the seal on the pointy rock was not Linebelly when the feisty Linebelly arrived on the scene and quickly made his intentions to seize his favorite rock known to the intruder.  The skirmish for the pointy rock was short but spirited, as the much larger Linebelly quickly asserted his dominance.  In less than a minute the loud, splashy battle was over and Linebelly took possession of his rightful place.  Once again the seals were not especially energetic as they approached the rocks, but we did observe examples of all the typical active seal behaviors before the herd settled down, including one particularly amorous courtship display.

Seal watching took a turn for the hectic around 3:00 pm with the arrival of a big group of families out for a nature walk.  We were happy to share our scope with the children and adults in this large, organized group, although so many children arriving at one time does serve to distract from the stars of the show: the seals.  We hope to see some of these nice families again at Rome Point out for a hike on their own, so we can give them a better, longer look at the seals; nonetheless, many of the children who got a good look through the scope were amazed to see the seals up close, and their delight was apparent and gratifying to see.

3-14-2013 95 seals hauled-out; 35 degrees, wind WNW 20 to 25+, partly cloudy 15:00
4 seals on far rock for 99 seals total. Winter returned with a vengeance, however, we persevered and managed to enjoy a fine seal watch this afternoon. The seal count was down a bit compared to recent observations due to the extreme wind, but we watched the rocks fill up with seals as they gradually came in to take their rest. There were a few flurries of activity as the seals arrived and several seals coupled up to frolic, but for the most part the seals were kind of subdued.  Just before we left, a seal used a submerged rock for a belly and back scratcher which is not something we see everyday.

We so badly wanted to keep up our run of consecutive days of over 100 seals that we counted repeatedly, but we just could not break the century mark.  When I count large numbers of seals, I count frequently and carefully; every little whisker or tip of a tail that I can glimpse gets counted as a seal.  Today I had two counts of 96 and 97 seals, but when I could not duplicate those counts on a second pass I rejected those numbers. I came up with 95 on several tallies, so 95 it is for the day (+4 = 99), no matter how much we wanted to keep our 100 seal streak intact. The seal count that we report is always conservative and we are sure that there are seals hauled out behind rocks that we cannot see on many occasions, but we take pride in the consistency of our seal counts and would never stretch the true count for any reason.

3-13-2013 160 seals hauled-out; 50 degrees, wind WNW 10 to 15, clear 14:30
6 seals on far rock for 166 seals total!  A spectacular seal watch this afternoon with the most seals we have seen in almost 2 years.  The sound of wood frogs chirping in the vernal pools put an extra spring in our step and brought spring to mind during our hike out to the point.  We arrived too late to see the best of the seal show; with a NW wind pushing the ebb tide most of the seals were already hauled out and settled more than two hours before low tide.  However, the sight of so many beautiful marine mammals all congregating on the rocks was consolation enough for our tardy arrival, and sometimes work responsibilities must take priority over seal watching. There were 3 juvenile seals on the white rock again today, making this the first time that we have ever seen seals on this rock for three consecutive days.The seal herd really got some heavy rest today with no disturbances to rouse them from their slumber.  The seals remained settled as the rising tide gradually displaced those seals perched on the lower rocks, and the seals departed with little fanfare as they made their way to the ocean to find their supper.

3-11-2013 125 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind S 10 to 15, cloudy to partly cloudy 12:30
6 seals on far rock for 131 seals total. Excellent seal watching again today with lots of territorial behavior, including some of the most ferocious sustained seal fighting we have ever witnessed. There were just a couple of other visitors around early in the seal tide, in contrast to yesterday; this gave us a good opportunity to shoot some interesting video. The seals settled quickly after the initial bouts of territorial squabbles, but there were a couple of juvenile seals on the white rock that seemed a bit nervous. Sure enough, at 12:30 these seals jumped off the white rock, and the sound of their splashes triggered a slow-motion mass exodus from the rocks. Slowly, the panic spread from left to right across the rocks as seals jumping in the water created a domino effect of.... more seals jumping into the water. Only 55 seals remained on the rocks at the conclusion of the spooking event and with a building south wind, a good number of seals left for the fishing grounds.

A few seals did return, leaving about 75 seals for the viewing pleasure of late arriving seal watchers. And pleasurable seal watching it was for the kids who came out to see seals this afternoon, most notably young scientist Logan, who showed remarkable interest and aptitude for seal observation. This seal watch had a little bit of everything and a whole lot of seals, continuing the great run of seal watching we have enjoyed in March. 

3-10-2013 152 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind NE 15 to 5, cloudy to clear 11:45
5 seals on far rock for 157 seals total. Seal watching today was fantastic, and everyone who came out to see the seals got to see outstanding views of wild marine mammals. Our seal watch started at 10:00 am with a raw northeast wind chilling us... and active, territorial seals thrilling us. The seals were apparently tired from all of the recent harsh weather and were eager to get on the rocks to have a long, relaxed, and restful nap.  There were a dozen seals on the white rock, which is only accessible to the seals on a astronomical high tide.  We rarely see seals on this rock, so we took the photo below to commemorate this unusual sight.

As more seals arrived, most of the rocks were still submerged; however, this did not deter the seals, who proceeded to occupy each rock as soon as they were able to gain sufficient purchase to stake their claim.  This resulted in numerous splashy seal fights that took place in the shallow water; I have never seen so many seals fight over still-submerged rocks, and I attribute this ill-mannered behavior to the seals being so tired from the past five days of stormy and windy weather. The seal shown below is delivering a tail bite to the poor seal on the rock; ultimately, the seal that was doing the biting proved to be the stronger contender as it seized the rock from its smaller rival.

As the day progressed, the seals settled down, but right after the 11:45 seal count about 60 of the seals spooked off the rocks for no apparent reason. This shuffled the seal deck and brought the red-headed Grey seal shown below out into the open where it could be plainly seen and admired.

A recap of today's seal watch would not be complete without making mention of all the nice families who joined us on our seal watch. Of special note were the students and exceptional teachers from Fishing Cove School in North Kingstown; it was especially our pleasure to spend time with these curious and well-behaved children and their dedicated teachers. Time and again we hear of strife in public education and stress caused by tight budgets... and year after year we are encouraged by the groups of school children and their adult leaders that we encounter at Rome Point. That these teachers and the other adults in their group are putting the kids first is as commendable as it is undeniable... its a privilege to share our knowledge and equipment with these folks, as well as with all of the families who leave the TVs and computers behind to take the kids for a nature adventure at Rome Point.

3-2-2013
96 seals hauled-out; 40 degrees, wind calm, cloudy 15:00
6 seals on far rock for 102 seals total. Awesome seal watching was enjoyed today by everyone who was fortunate enough to choose this afternoon to take a hike to see the seals at Rome Point. We consider ourselves fortunate when we get a good look at just a few interesting sights when we set up for seal observation, but today we were constantly amused for 2 1/2 hours by a continuously spectacular seal show. Territorial behavior, courtship activity, curiosity, active seals jumping and tail-slapping, loud vocalization, and a couple of Gray seals all contributed to an entertaining and exceptionally interesting afternoon of seal observation. Calm wind and perfect light for the scope was also a positive factor, as was the steady stream of seal seeking families that seemed to arrive perfectly spaced so as to give all visitors a long, unhurried turn at the spotting scope. At least a dozen different seals took to the air in displays of porpoising, while the many seals on the rocks provided everyone with good sightings of a wide variety of seals to check out... including a big Gray seal, a juvenile Gray, a seal with a net entanglement, and... the inimitable Linebelly.

The seals finally settled around 3:00pm, but there was one more surprise in store for us when the local swans decided to make their way out to the rocks for a bit of foraging. We have seen the swans spook the seals before so we watched closely as the big white birds approached the rocks. At first, it seemed that the seals were not the least bit concerned as only a few seals eyed the swans warily. Then as the swans swam nearer to the flat rock where the biggest seals hold court, both swans suddenly plunged their heads under the water to feed. As we have seen in the past, swans that appear to be headless are a disturbing sight to the seals, and this time, the swans spooked the most stalwart, mature seals, who proceeded to vacate the flat rock post-haste. The rest of the seal herd was not impressed and only a handful of other seals took the plunge. Even before the swans moved away, the big seals quickly returned to the flat rock, as though they were embarrassed to have been frightened by mere swans. The photo below shows the seals fleeing from the swans in a panic reaction, which we are posting to shame those big bad seals into showing a little more courage the next time swans come calling.


2-25-2013 112 seals hauled-out; 38 degrees, wind northeast 10 to 5; to east 10, partly cloudy 13:30
5 seals on far rock and 1 seal at Greene Point for 118 seals total. An outstanding seal watch today... best of the season so far in every way. The only drawback was there were no other visitors around to share this amazing seal watch; its too bad we did not have this great day last week when school vacation brought more hikers to the Rome Point shore. Our seal walk today was not planned, but an errand to get shoestrings and windshield wipers somehow morphed into a quick hike to check on the seals when I noticed the wind was not blowing too hard. With an easterly wind forecast we knew seal watching was likely to be a chilly proposition and when we reached the beach the wind-driven waves were pounding away on the shore. However, when we saw the number of seals that were all over the haul-out rocks, our fate was sealed for the afternoon; the scheduled tax preparation drudgery would just have to wait.

The wind faded as predicted and the seals just kept coming; before we knew it 3 hours had passed and we had been witness to a full array of seal behaviors. The seals became more vocal as the tide started to come in and with the easterly breeze, some seals could be heard growling loudly as they grew impatient with other seals that encroached on their personal space when the rising water caused them to move to higher ground. The light was great for close up telescopic observation and we took some time to try to document the seals that were present today on video for identification in the future. One seal that requires no identification is Linebelly; the Rome Point stalwart was present and accounted for on the pointy rock, and we were able to identify a half-dozen other seals as well.

2-22-2013
33 seals hauled-out; 38 degrees, wind northeast 10 to 5, cloudy 12:00
4 seals on far rock for 37 seals total. The already good seal observation improved significantly today with less wind, better light for telescopic viewing, and the seals positioned well in photogenic poses with the easterly wind at their back. There were quite a few seal watchers out for a hike around mid-day and everyone who had a chance to check out the seals through the scope was suitable impressed with the opportunity to get up close views of wild marine mammals. The cheerful fellowship we all enjoyed served to make the time pass quickly and helped to ward off the chill of the quartering wind; before I knew it three hours had passed and the tide had covered many of the rocks.

I expected that by mid-afternoon the seals would be headed out to sea, but to my great surprise instead of leaving, many of the seals headed for higher ground as the rocks they were resting on became submerged. The sight of large adult seals clambering up to the top of some of the taller rocks had me exclaiming out loud in amazement, as it is a rare sight indeed to see the mature seals expend so much energy to extend their resting time. There were still 20 seals hauled out four hours after low tide, which we seldom see even on days when over a hundred seals are present at low tide. This proved to be a bonanza for late-arriving seal seekers who were treated to the awesome sight of some of the biggest, fattest seals perched atop tall rocks where they are rarely seen. Right after Sandy passed through I observed lots of big seals resting up high on the rocks, but the last hour this afternoon was especially entertaining as I watched the seals actually ascending to their secondary rest locations. I believe that the combination of another oncoming storm forecast to arrive tomorrow and the diminishing wind motivated the seals to scale the tall rocks, thereby prolonging their afternoon naps. No matter the reason, the seal watch today was good at the beginning, and proved to be excellent by the end, and many satisfied seal watchers left happy to have enjoyed this wonderful spectacle of nature.

2-21-2013 35 seals hauled-out; 38 degrees, wind west 15 to 20+, clear 11:30
4 seals on far rock for 39 seals total. This seal watch was almost a carbon copy of yesterday, with the same seals arrayed on the same rocks in similar poses. One exception was on the flat rock, where the seals lined up facing the shore in a more flattering pose. There were no other visitors to the seal beach during my two hour stay, possibly due to the combination of a slightly more northerly wind direction that made the walk into the wind on the beach uncomfortable and slippery ice on the sheltered forest trails. The highlight of the day was a brief glimpse of a couple of seals who engaged in some nose-to-nose flirtatious activity on the surface of the white capped, wind-whipped bay. These love-struck seals were not easy to spot as they briefly cavorted among the waves, and I was pleased that I was fortunate enough to be able to watch them interact for the 5 minutes they were visible.

2-20-2013 41 seals hauled-out; 35 degrees, wind west 15 to 20+, clear 9:30
5 seals on far rock for 46 seals total. The wind was a little too brisk for optimal seal observation this morning, but while the number of seals was not exceptional, the wind did cause some interesting seal behavior. Whenever the wind backed off for a while or shifted slightly to the south seals would haul out on low lying rocks that were too enticing to pass up. Then when the wind picked up again and kicked up waves and spray these seals would get splashed and return to the water. This pattern continued for the better part of two hours for six or seven seals, providing a measure of entertaining behavior to help pass the time.

Linebelly made an appearance on the pointy rock today and stayed perched there for the full duration of the rest cycle. We also spotted a seal with a "necklace" scar from a past net entanglement on the right side of the "cluster". The seals showed a bit of determination by hanging out for 3 hours after low tide on such a windy, splashy day, which was fortunate for late arriving seal watchers out for a hike on this school vacation week.

We were advised that the Rhode Island DEM sponsored a seal program yesterday and that a number of seal seeking families had a nice seal walk; apparently, the seals obliged by sticking around late into the ebb tide yesterday as well. It is encouraging to see DEM Parks and Recreation Dept. taking an interest in Rome Point and there is a new sign at the preserve parking lot denoting the John H. Chafee Nature Preserve as a state park. We may need to enlist the support of DEM someday to help protect the seal watching experience, so we are in favor of DEM staff spending lots of time here... because we know the more time anyone spends at Rome Point, the more deeply they will come to appreciate the unique natural character of the property and its winter inhabitants.

2-15-2013 84 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind south-southwest 15 to 10, clear 16:00
5 seals on far rock for 89 seals total, the most we have seen since Christmas eve. An excellent seal walk today with plenty of lively seals on display in the pleasant winter afternoon sun. We are hoping the good number of seals we saw today hang around for the upcoming school-vacation week; if they do, seal seeking families who choose a morning seal walk later next week are going to have real nice seal show to enjoy.

2-1-2013 40 seals hauled-out; 32 degrees, wind west 10 to 20, cloudy 14:50
1 seal on far rock and 1 seal at Greene Point for 42 seals total. The seals were especially frisky today as they approached the haul-out rocks; we observed at least 5 individuals performing flipper slaps or porpoising, with some seals exhibiting both behaviors. The herd was early to arrive the rocks with a dozen seals hauled out 3 hours before low tide. A few seals we have not seen for some time were present and accounted for, most notably Linebelly on his customary perch. The wind was borderline too strong for the seals' liking, but as usual they tolerated the westerly wind better than breezes that blow equally hard from other directions. With low tide around 1600 and an entertaining seal show in progress we would have liked to stay longer, but we left grateful for the good seal observation we enjoyed on our last time out to Rome Point before a spell of business travel keeps us otherwise occupied for several weeks.

1-27-2013 36 seals hauled-out; 22 degrees, wind northwest 10 to 15, clear 13:30
An all-around fun seal watch today with warmer conditions, better light for zooming in with the scope, and lots of seal watching company, including some long time Rome Point regulars. As the afternoon passed, additional seals hauled out on individual rocks to the right, providing very good views of large adult seals. The seals settled in much earlier in the tide than yesterday, so we did not see a whole lot of interesting behavior; but there was just enough action to hold our interest for most of the afternoon.

The seal in the photo below was everyones favorite today, as it rested in this ostensibly uncomfortable position for about 2 hours. Its not everyday that we get to see a big seal laying sideways on this pointy rock; most seals that perch on this spot face directly towards the shore, but this seal preferred to face away from the cold northwest wind, no matter how undignified it may have looked to seal watching onlookers.


1-26-2013 25 seals hauled-out; 22 degrees, wind northwest 10 to 15, clear 13:00
6 seals on far rock for 31 seals total. The seals were late to arrive at the haul-out rocks this morning, but by 11:30 there were a half dozen seals on the rocks. We watched as the seals continued to trickle in over the next 1 1/2 hour; with the rocks high out of the water and sheltered rocks in short supply, it seemed like there was always at least one seal maneuvering to haul-out. This made for entertaining seal watching, as brief skirmishes were triggered when seals tried to access the rocks at locations that were already occupied. There was also some activity in the water with a few jumping seals to be seen and one of the porpoising seals made 3 consecutive leaps. The observation location was sheltered from the wind which was a good thing on such a cold day, and a surprising number of intrepid seal watchers braved the elements for a chance to see the seals on this chilly January day. 

1-17-2013 32 seals hauled-out; 42 degrees, wind northwest 10 to 5, cloudy 16:30
2 seals on far rock for 34 seals total. Nice evening seal watch as we observed the seals hauling out in pleasant, soft, winter light.  We got to see a flurry of aerial action as three different seal porpoised several times, and one rock was the scene of a brief battle for seal superiority.  After reviewing 5 years of seal observation records, it appears that a mid-winter drop in the number of seals is pretty much par for the course.  This lull in the seal action does not take place at precisely the same time each year, which became apparent when I plotted my seal counts on an Excel chart for the first time.  The exercise of charting the seal counts proved to be revealing in several ways, not just in terms of seal behavior, but also in terms of my own perceptions and biases regarding the number of seal present at various times of the seal season.  An interesting exercise for sure, well worth the data entry tedium for the additional insight that was gained.

1-15-2013 28 seals hauled-out; 40 degrees, wind north 10 to calm, cloudy 14:30
4 seals on far rock for 32 seals total. When we first arrived there were seals swimming all around the mostly submerged rocks, so we had high hopes of seeing more seals today than we have been seeing lately. The seals that were swimming about hauled out in short order but then, much to our surprise, no additional seals showed up. We scanned the calm surface of the of the bay far and wide, but we did not spot a single swimming seal after the original group hauled out. This was unusual because there was plenty of ebb tide left to run out, but after the first wave of seals hauled out we watched for almost 2 hours for more seals to arrive, but they never made an appearance.

The evidence is becoming ever more conclusive that a sizable portion of the seal herd has left the Rome Point area for the time being, perhaps to an extent that we have not observed previously over the past 12 years. A quick check of my seal observation records revealed a similar, but less pronounced pattern of a period of reduced seal presence in January/February 2012, 2011, and 2010. Prior to 2010, I could not discern any indication of seals leaving for a while in Jan.-Feb. from a cursory review of my records, but I think I will take a closer look at my past seal data in order to get a better feel for how significant the recent low seal numbers might be from a historical perspective. I do know this, the past four observations were made under ideal weather and tide conditions, so these factors are certainly not in play. The weather pattern and tide timing is going to change later this week, and it will be interesting to see what is happening with the seals after the weather/tide turn-around is complete in about a week.
 
1-13-2013 40 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind south 5-10, cloudy 13:15
5 seals on far rock for 45 seals total. We are still seeing fewer seals than we are accustomed to seeing this time of the year, even when conditions are optimum as they were today. The light was not so good for telescope viewing or for the many photographers who showed up today to get some seal shots for their portfolios. One group of seal seekers who are not so particular about the lighting are young children and it was our pleasure to set up the scope at "kids height" for most of our visit today. The seals did not have much going on (although one seal did porpoise 3 times) but the kids did not mind, as most of them were amazed to get up close and personal views of seals in the wild.

1-11-2013 35 seals hauled-out; 40 degrees, wind calm, cloudy 12:45
2 seals on far rock for 37 seals total.  Another calm day and another lower than expected seal count is causing us to wonder where all of the seals are hanging out lately; the conditions were perfect today but many seals that we saw regularly in December have not been around this week.  The light was excellent for telescope observation and the seals were resting quietly, so we took advantage of the calm bay conditions to check out the many flocks of ducks that were visible.  We spotted red-breasted mergansers, common golden eye, surf scoters, bufflehead, and loons on the bay, while the back cove held mallards, brant, Canada geese, and mute swans.  Conspicuous by their absence were cormorants as there were absolutely none to be seen. Perhaps the dearth of fish-eating cormorants is providing a clue as to why the January seal counts have been so low... maybe the forage fish are not close by, causing some of the seals to relocate to haul-outs closer to their current feeding grounds.

After low tide, some of the seals took to the water and either departed or found a new rock to haul out on.  There were plenty of rocks available, but one big seal decided that he wanted a rock that was already occupied by a smaller seal.  The little seal fought valiantly, but eventually physics prevailed as the more massive seal used its weight advantage to win the rock that it wanted so badly.  The photo below shows these seals fighting at the height of the battle.


After the big seal won its desired resting place, he turned on his side, thereby revealing his identity: Linebelly!  If you look carefully at the photo below, you can see the telltale scar that gave Linebelly his name... which we may change to "Linebully" if he keeps picking fights with smaller seals.  The smaller seal that was vanquished managed to retain a small piece of the rock after Linebelly settled on the prime spot.
 

1-9-2013
55 seals hauled-out; 42 degrees, wind calm to S5, thin fog to cloudy 10:30
4 seals on far rock for 59 seals total.  It was a pleasure to note that the wind was calm today in my notebook, as this was the first really calm day we enjoyed for seal watching this season.  When the bay is calm, the seals will often cruise along the water surface for long distances with their head out of the water; this "gatoring" behavior was observed today and a couple of seals could be seen swimming as far as 2 miles from the haul-out rocks. The tide was very low this morning, so the seals were hauled out well before we arrived 2 1/2 hours before low tide.

We did not get to see a lot of interesting behavior today, but at 10:40 about 15 seals took to the water and decided to find new rocks to haul out on.  This resulted in one epic battle for a rock between a pair of rivals that went on for about 20 minutes.  Near the end of this skirmish, one of the seals involved lunged out of the water to take a swipe at the other seal's tail, which I captured in the video frame shot shown below. Eventually these seals declared a truce and shared the rock in peace and harmony for the rest of the time we were there.  


1-8-2013
33 seals hauled-out; 35 degrees, wind SW 20+, clear 10:15
We were in the area this morning and decided to check on the seals and the trail conditions, in spite of wind and weather conditions that were not optimal. Predictably, there were not a lot of seals hauled-out; although southwest wind is good for seal watching, all bets are off when the wind is howling at over 20 knots as it was today. In addition, a warm front passed through the area right when the seals would have been hauling out, and we have observed that the passage of a frontal boundary tends to reduce the number of seals that we see.  The seals that were present seemed happy enough if somewhat unsettled; on occasion some seals were obviously aware of the whooshing sound of the wind turbine on Fox Island, which could be plainly heard during strong wind gusts.  One late-arriving seal stirred up trouble among the seals on the cluster rock, but after the smallest seal in that group was dispatched to the water, there was not any more interesting seal activity to be seen on this windy, warm day.

When the seals are not active and the astronomical tide is low, we sometimes take the opportunity to explore the inter tidal zone, and our beachcombing today uncovered a few new denizens of Narragansett Bay.  First, we found that the Asian Shore Crabs are still numerous but only crabs that are the size of a fingernail or smaller could be found.  This is the first time that we have seen so many of these juvenile crabs in January, no doubt these unwelcome invaders have established a permanent presence in these waters. We also noted more Red Algae than we have ever seen before and we suspect this is Grateloupia turuturu another Asian invader.  Most interestingly, we spotted several colonies of what appear to be invasive chain sea squirts, also known as Orange Sheath Tunicate (Botrylloides violaceus); this is the first time we have seen these notorious slime beasts at Rome Point.  The photo below shows a rock that is covered with this foul organism, we hope that somehow the sea squirts do not become widespread, as this will be one more aggressive invader that the native flora and fauna will have to compete with for survival in the complex, fast-changing bay ecosystem.



12-28-2012 37 seals hauled-out; 34 degrees, wind NW 10-15, clear 14:00
3 seals on far rock for 40 seals total.  The wind was howling out of the northwest at 11:30 and the seals were not enthusiastic about leaving the water for their rest on the rocks.  Several seals hauled-out and then decided that the splashy waves were not to their liking; only after the tide had receded further and the wind backed down a bit did some seals decide to remain on the rocks.  By 12:15 there were about 10 seals on the rocks and by 12:45 the number had doubled to 20.  Linebelly showed up and had to take on a couple of rival seals (or the same rival twice) in order to claim the pointy rock for himself.  It was interesting to see a few territory issues crop up with so much available real estate for the seals to choose from, but apparently certain rocks are much prized when the bay conditions take a turn for the worse.  The seals stayed active for a relatively long time, making this an entertaining seal watch in spite of the small number of seals present.

The seal with the net entanglement was present again on the left side of the center cluster, that loop of netting is sure tight around this animal's neck, but the fat seal seems to be faring OK despite its irritating affliction. There was sporadic activity in the water as another 15 seals arrived, and all the wind and wave action kept the seals unsettled for most of the afternoon.  At 14:45 two kayaks showed up; the paddlers paused for a few minutes at a distance before they proceeded out towards the rocks, which spooked the seals off the rocks and out of the area.  I wonder what the kayakers were thinking when they stopped to look at the seals from afar.  I don't know why it is not occurring to people that spooking all of the seals off the rocks might not be the thing to do, but, for the last month at least, there have been too many times when the seals have not been afforded the consideration they deserve.

12-26-2012 32 seals hauled-out; 32 degrees, wind N 10 15, clear to cloudy. 13:00
3 seal on far rock for 35 seals total.  When I first arrived, I thought today's seal watch was destined to be brief, as the light was poor for telescope observation, the chilly north wind was inescapable, and no one else was around to keep me company.  In short order, the light improved greatly when clouds moved in, and to my surprise the cold breeze did not deter a steady procession of seal seeking families from making the trek out to Rome Point as the morning progressed.  The north wind did keep the number of seals down today and they never did settle, but good light for viewing and plenty of pleasant company made for one of the more enjoyable seal watches of the season.  I ended up staying for almost 4 hours and enjoying every minute, in spite of the uncomfortable wind.

The photograph below shows Linebelly laying sideways on a rock that is located to the left of the pointy rock that is his customary haul-out site.  Shortly after I took this picture, Linebelly made the move to his favorite rock, where he stayed perched high and dry for the next three hours.  The namesake scar on his belly that gives this seal his name is not visible in the photo, but could be seen clearly through the spotting scope.
 

12-24-2012 85 seals hauled-out; 42 degrees, wind NW 10 to calm, cloudy. 11:00
6 Seals on far rock for 91 seals total.  A classic Christmas season seal day, with lots of seals, great weather, and just enough seal watching company to make a couple of hours at Rome Point fly by.  The seals were resting soundly two hours before low tide, with at least 10 seals in exactly the same locations as yesterday.  There was not much scanning or any other noteworthy behavior for the first two hours, but with so many seals posing in the winter morning sun all of the seal seeking onlookers were suitably impressed.  The most notable sighting was the first young-of-the-year pup we have seen this season, which we spotted atop one of the tall rocks where the small seals are usually found.  

I was paying close attention to the seals on the ridge rock when all of a sudden all of the seals in my field of view snapped to alert at the same instant.  Within 5 seconds these seals took to the water and the splashy commotion served to spook about 35 seals off the rocks.  This is behavior we see regularly, but it was especially interesting to be watching the seals at the exact time when they spooked for no apparent reason.  It looked to me like a single seal in a closely packed group triggered the mass hysteria by quickly and suddenly lifting its head and turning slightly, which in turn caused its nearby neighbors to freak out.  Once the seals on the ridge rock hit the water all of the seals in the center area headed for deep water as well, however, Linebelly and all of the big mature seals to the right were not frightened enough to go swimming, but they did go on alert status for five minutes or so.

Unlike when the seals are spooked by interactions with people who remain in the area, when their own nerves get the best of them the seals will often return to rocks after they are satisfied that there was no real threat.  As the seals return, there will usually be territorial disputes that result from the reshuffling of seal's rest spots.  That is exactly what happened today, and with almost all of the seals electing to return to the rocks the ensuing fighting was loud and fierce, albeit brief.  The seals shown below fought over this rock for a solid two minutes but the seal that is holding the high ground managed to fend off its rival.




12-23-2012 58 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind W-NW 10, cloudy. 10:30
5 seals on far rock for 63 seals total.  A good start to the Holiday seal watching this morning with over 50 seals laying about for several groups of visitors to enjoy.  At the time we arrived the seals were well-settled, with Linebelly dozing soundly in his customary place.  A photography club and a loose association of hikers affiliated with several local outdoors organizations picked a good day to visit, as the light was good, the weather was comfortable on the lee shore, and the seals were relaxing placidly for everyone to see.  Close observation revealed a somewhat sick seal that coughed and panted a bit, another sighting of a seal we have seen regularly with net remnants wrapped around its neck, and a quickly repeated skirmish over a spot on the right side of the cluster rock.  

The seal herd was chased from the rocks for the fourth time in our past five outings at Rome Point by a solo mariner in a 16 foot dory, who scared the seals away from afar as he motored directly to the rocks.  The sight of this wayward watercraft was apparently especially disturbing to the seals with the lone seafarer standing proudly with tiller in hand in one hand and compact digital camera in the other, as every seal took to the water while the black boat was still over a quarter mile away.  The only photos the feckless captain was able get were of spy-hopping, nervous seals that surveyed the situation from the security of deep water after being spooked.  Another less than stellar performance by a watercraft operator today, but fortunately this one waited until almost an hour after low tide to show up and spoil the seal show.  At least the seals managed to get a decent rest break and most of the seal seeking hikers got to see the seals before they were spooked today.

We are not pleased with the recent spate of seal disturbance events, which is unprecedented for December.  Never before have we observed the seal herd spooked on four out of five outing during this time of the year; we keep figuring this will soon cease, but lately there seems to be no end to the parade of offenders.  We do not use the term offenders lightly, and we know the seals are gonna get scared away from time to time, but the recent, repeated seal harassment has just been blatantly foolish, not a mistake by someone who excitedly gets a little too close.  Seal disturbance events occur in varying circumstances, but this month the seals have been invariably been "spooked hard" as we say, and driven from the area when the offenders do not have enough sense to back off after chasing the seals away.  Only five minutes before the boat arrived there was a large group of seal watchers on the shoreline, and I was left wondering whether the presence of numerous onlookers would have affected the behavior of any of the watercraft operators who scared the seals off in December.

12-15-2012 26 seals hauled-out; 38 degrees, wind NE 10, cloudy. 13:30
A disappointing seal watch with not as many seals hauled out as we would have expected.  It appeared as though most of the seals may have been spooked off the rocks before we arrived, as a number of the seals were still wet when they should have been dry from resting on the rocks for several hours.  Still, 26 seals is not bad, but shortly after we arrived a power boat showed up and chased all but 3 seals off of the rocks. With an uncomfortable easterly wind blowing in our faces, we did not linger after the seals were spooked.  There will plenty of time for seal watching over the holidays, but we hope the recent spell of seals being spooked by watercraft soon comes to an end.

12-14-2012 56 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind W10, clear. 15:20
6 seals on far rock for 62 seals total.  Some days just cry out for a seal walk and this was definitely one of those days.  The seals, mercifully oblivious to the realm of human affairs, were profoundly settled when I arrived an hour after low tide.  The new moon astronomical low tide extended the seal's rest period and almost all of the seals present were in a deep slumber with no scanning and not a single swimming seal observed in 1 1/2 hours.  I had Rome Point to myself for nearly the entire late-afternoon and enjoyed the soothing evening light alone while beachcombing in the company of peaceful, beatific seals; I found this calming and comforting environment provided a most welcome respite from the sad events of the day.
 
12-9-2012  82 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind N10 to NE 10 to 15, clear to cloudy. 9:30
5 seals on far rock for 87 seal total.  A fine morning seal watch featuring the most seals we have seen this year and good light for telescopic observation.  The seals were well settled into their resting locations by the time we arrived 1/2 hour before low tide.  Later in the morning, a steady stream of seal seekers arrived, including a number of seal watching acquaintances from past seasons.  We were glad for the company, as the northeast wind could not be avoided; it was nice to enjoy the warmth provided by friendly company as we all enjoyed good views of the seal all morning.  The canine contingent was well represented today as well, with Labrador Retrievers of all sizes and colors in attendance.  There were still about 55 seals on the rocks two hours after low tide, but a solo kayaker put an end to the good seal watching at 11:40 when he inadvertently chased all but five seals from the haul-out rocks.

We noticed that Linebelly was not on his customary pointy rock and that another seal had taken up station atop Linebelly's rock.  We watched as this seal rotated a full 360 degrees on the pointy rock over about a half-hour in an apparent effort to find a comfortable resting position.  We have noticed before that Linebelly is the only seal that is able to get good rest while precariously perched on the pointy protuberance; other seals never seem to get settled, and we have even seen several tumble off the rock as they maneuver to try to find a comfortable position.  The seal pictured below ended up draped over the pointy rock trying to get comfortable.

This does not look very comfy, but it suited this seal just fine.... until the arrival of Linebelly fifteen minutes after this photo was taken.  I heard some growling and got the scope on this rock just in time to see Linebelly administer a bite on the nose to the vulnerable seal with its nose near the waterline.  The seal draped over the rock wisely fled from its perch and, over the course of a half-hour Linebelly ascended to his regal throne, as pictured below.

Within 5 minutes of this picture being taken, Linebelly had settled into his nap routine, only occasionally shifting position slightly or scanning the area.  We arrived too late in the ebb tide see much interesting seal behavior this morning, but leave it to good old Linebelly to entertain us, as he has done many times over the past six years.

12-3-2012  72 seals hauled-out; 58 degrees, wind NW 10 decreasing to 5, clear. 14:30
7 seals on far rock for 79 seals total.  Outstanding seal watching today with the seals putting on a fabulous show of marine mammal behavior for the few lucky onlookers who were fortunate to choose this afternoon to take a walk at Rome Point.  I watched as the herd hauled-out on the rocks and claimed their territories with loud vocalizations and associated aggressive behavior.  Some resting rocks were the sites of repeated battles as feisty seals fought to procure the spot that they preferred.  One late-arriving large seal made trouble at three different rocks, where he was ably repelled by the defensive occupants, but not without a loud fight in each case.

The photo below of a seal biting another seal's tail is too good not to post. Tail biting is the penultimate bad seal behavior and we do not see this "nuclear option" deployed very often, let alone get a picture of the malefactor in action.  The seal that was bit immediately spun around and took to the water to administer a measure of revenge, I do not know what happened to the biting seal, but the seal on the rock reclaimed the rock within a minute and was not attacked again.


I enjoyed almost two hours of some of the best marine mammal observation that Rome Point has to offer today, including a few agile aerial maneuvers and some of the most intense seal vocalization I have ever heard.  With a September trip to Yellowstone still fresh in my mind, I could not help but compare the seal watching today with the wolf watching we were privileged to enjoy at America's most renowned national park.  In Yellowstone, there is admittedly more of an opportunity to see something truly once-in-a-lifetime, and there is more variety as bears, coyotes, foxes, elk, antelope, bighorn sheep, moose, and the ubiquitous bison can all be seen on occasion.  However, Rome Point has some advantages as well, including more reliably consistent wildlife that are not as far distant and a sheltered, waterfront observation site located away from the road.  In addition, at Yellowstone it is not uncommon to have over 100 people present at a single roadside site for wolf watching, which serves to detract from the wilderness experience.

I am sure that Yellowstone provides a more unique and memorable wildlife observation opportunity at its best, but seal watching at Rome Point measures up surprisingly well in comparison. The seal observation I enjoyed today was every bit as interesting as watching a pack of wolves romp through the Lamar valley, and the reactions of the seal watching newbies who happened along and got to see the seals in action was nothing short of amazement.  Yellowstone is a spectacular nature wonderland but the wildlife viewing is unpredictable with a big random component, the area is vast, and a slow morning at Yellowstone can be very disappointing, especially when considering the distance traveled and dollars spent.  We are most fortunate to be able to enjoy all of our favorite wild places and each one is unique; however, Rome Point is so accessible and the dependable seals are truly wild creatures worthy of close observation that we feel, all things considered, that our under-appreciated hometown seal observation site is a place to be treasured and protected on a par with a national park.

All of which brings us to the conclusion of our seal watch today, which was brought to an early end an hour before low tide when a single clueless kayaker paddled out to the rocks and scared all of the seals away. I have always considered occasional seal and watercraft interactions to be part and parcel of the seal watching experience at Rome Point, but lately I am reconsidering my fairly high tolerance level for those who thoughtlessly disturb an entire herd of resting marine mammals.  The kayaker today was ill-equipped to be on the bay alone at this time of year and was observed chasing the seals away on several occasions last spring.  While incidents of the seals being spooked by watercraft have become less frequent in recent years, there is an unfortunate trend developing where on calm temperate days, which are prime days for the seals to get a good rest (and for people to get a good look), some fool in a kayak will show up and disturb the seal's rest while spoiling the seal watching as well.  Anyone who pulled such a stunt with a pack of wolves in Yellowstone would find themselves the recipient of a hefty fine with no chance of a warning, as the wolf watching community has park rangers on speed dial and they do not hesitate to make the call.

Usually, seeing the seals get spooked does not bother me as much as it did today, but watching this repeat offender blatantly chase all the seals away, to the detriment of both the animals and late-arriving seal seekers, did get to me a little bit.  Harbor seals enjoy federal protection comparable to wolves, but here there is no law enforcement presence readily available to interdict violators of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, such as the park rangers do for wolves in Yellowstone.  I am about one more untimely seal disturbance away from contacting both the Coast Guard and the RIDEM to see what can be done to provide enhanced protection for the Rome Point seals, while establishing a pre-arranged, formal process for reporting and effectively dealing with individuals who repeatedly disturb the seal herd. 

11-29-2012  75 seals hauled-out; 38 degrees, wind W 10-15, clear. 13:30
6 seals on far rock for 81 seals total.  Perfect seal watching conditions were too tempting to resist today, despite our busy work schedule that does not leave much spare time for wildlife observation lately.  The seals did not disappoint, with lots of seals in picturesque repose under ideal light for telescope observation.  The old stalwart Linebelly was perched upon his favorite pointy rock for the first time this season, proudly showing off the additional blubber he has pack on during his summer travels.  Other familiar seals were recognizable scattered among the low-lying rocks.  Few other hikers ventured out to Rome Point this afternoon; at low tide my only companion was a Sharp-shinned hawk that perched for a while in the nearby trees.

This seal watch had a definite winter feel for the first time this season, with numerous Red-breasted Mergansers and two pairs of Common Golden eye accentuating the wintry mood.  There were a couple of unusual birds picking around on the seal rocks, I believe these were Ruddy Turnstone, although my shore bird ID skills are not especially keen.  The shoreline was again littered with jewel-like bay scallops and there were even a few Asian Shore Crabs still to be found among the rocks closest to the waterline. Although I arrived too late in the ebb tide to observe much interesting seal behavior, the placid and relaxed seals suited the mood of this quiet late fall day perfectly and I lingered for a couple of hours to savor this most enjoyable outdoor outing.

11-11-2012  26 seals hauled-out; 60 degrees, wind S 10, partly cloudy. 11:00
A fairly unremarkable seal watch today, notable mainly for the comfortable, balmy temperatures.  There were a lot of boats out and about for November, including  fishermen setting pots for Channeled Whelks, but all the watercraft left the seals alone for a peaceful rest.  And rest they did, the seals were zonked out when we arrived and barely summoned the energy to raise their heads to scan when a boat passed nearby.

Sometimes the shoreline at Rome Point holds more interesting nature secrets that the seal rocks do; that was the case today.  I was surprised to find numerous big bay scallops scattered all along the shore, so many that we could have easily gathered enough scallops for a fine lunch if we had been so inclined.  We started noticing a lot more scallop shells on the shore last winter, but today with an astronomical low tide there were not just empty shells; instead, the shoreline was strewn with the healthy, tasty bivalves.  We enjoyed several bountiful harvests of blue crabs last summer, perhaps on the next moon tide we will bring along a little cooler and make a meal of sweet bay scallops after our seal walk.

The crustaceans were also well represented today as every likely hiding rock concealed many Asian Shore Crabs.  I was pleased when my grand-daughter proclaimed these crabs an "invaded species", close enough for a five year old naturalist to make her Grampie proud that she remembers her nature lessons so well.  The scampering crabs scoot for the safety of the nearest rocks when they are exposed by turning over their hiding places, providing a measure of entertainment for young and old alike.  Last fall when we looked for Asian Crabs on October 30 there were none to be found, but this season the warm temperatures are allowing them to hang around for an extra couple of weeks.  A couple of days with below freezing temperatures will send all of the thousands upon thousands of crabs scurrying off to deep water, not to re-emerge until next summer.  

11-1-2012  60 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind SW 15, partly cloudy. 16:00
A quick check of the seal rocks from way down the beach through binoculars revealed only a few seals on the barely exposed low rocks 1 1/2 hours before low tide.  I was distracted on the beach by trash pick up duty, so I did not take another look at the seals until I arrived at the point.  When I took a second look, I was amazed to see at least 45 big adult seals crammed together on the tallest rocks. I had never seen this before, sometimes a few adventurous big seals will be hauled out on a tall rock or two, but never so many big seals all over every tall rock with plenty of unoccupied space on the most favored low, flat rocks.

Clearly, this unusual behavior was a result of the storm, but why would the seals' behavior be altered 3 full days after the storm passed?  My best guess is the the seals are worn out from several days of swimming in rough seas and require extra rest; by hauling out on the highest rocks they can extend their rest period on both ends of the cycle.  However there could be other motivations for the high rock hauling out, maybe the forage fish the seals depend upon have become scarce after the storm and they are conserving energy by reducing the time that they spend on the hunt for food.  Or perhaps they have just had enough of the ocean for a while after contending with big waves and wind driven currents and want to get as far from the water as possible.  Whatever the reason, it would be interesting to see how long it takes until the seals' haul out behavior returns to a more normal pattern, but we will not be around to check on the seals again for another 10 days or so.

These are some of the big seals that were perched atop the tall rocks we call the "twins" today, who knows how long it will be until we see so many big seals perched high above the surface of the bay.


10-27-2012  53 seals hauled-out; 65 degrees, wind E 5, clear. 12:30
We enjoyed excellent seal watching with the seals putting on a feisty show of territorial behavior for most of the time that we watched them.  As low tide approached, large seals continued to arrive and these late arrivals all seemed interesting in hauling out on the flat rock, which was already occupied by big seals. A couple of the latecomers were able to gain a "flipper hold" on the flat rock, but another half dozen seals were ably repelled by the flat rock occupants. Two of the seals that were not able to haul out on their rock of choice went porpoising away in apparent splashy frustration, which is behavior we rarely observe from the large mature seals.  We were left wondering whether the skirmishes we observed today will be instrumental in determining the hierarchy of the seal herd for the upcoming season. It may take a number of challenges between rivals vying for the same territory to sort out the seals' pecking order, if so, the fighting we observed today may continue for another month as additional migrating mature seals continue to arrive at Rome Point.

We believe we observed Linebelly on the flat rock today, so perhaps this long-time Rome Point resident has advanced in status to a degree where he can maintain membership in the exalted flat rock club. On the other hand, Linebelly was seen on the flat rock in October last year, but by Thanksgiving he was back on his customary pointy rock perch. We recognized at least 4 other returning seals from last year and we also saw a seal with a loop of netting entangled around its neck. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of the juvenile seals that were rehabilitated at Mystic Aquarium and released at Charlestown this week, but we did not see these seals, which can be identified by a tag on their tail flipper. We hope these young, inexperienced seals are savvy enough to ride out the predicted ocean storm, as their ability to handle a storm in the open ocean may have been diminished by growing up in captivity.

10-14-2012  
35 seals hauled-out; 65 degrees, wind SW 15-20+, cloudy. 12:00  First seal watch of the fall 2012 seal season!
A brief but very enjoyable seal walk today, as we took advantage of favorable conditions to hike out to Rome Point to see the seals for the first time in almost 6 months.  We were pleased to see a good number of seals with excellent lighting for close-up observation.  Several seals were recognizable from past seasons, including Linebelly who was hauled out on the left side of the flat rock.  To the left of Linebelly, a smaller seal showed signs of illness; this seal panted and coughed frequently, which is distressing to see in light of last season's unusual seal mortality event.  Better keep to your own rock Linebelly, lest you catch the flu from this poor sick seal.  The other seals were a bit unsettled in the windy conditions but an astronomical low tide served to keep the herd high and dry despite some good size waves breaking on the rocks.

It was great to see how clean the beach was as we made out way to the point; we only managed to find a couple of small pieces of trash to pick up at the seal viewing location.  There is a contingent of Rome Point regular visitors who all pitch in help to keep this place clean, as well as periodic organized beach clean-up campaigns that contribute to the relatively litter-free condition of this nature preserve.  This stands in stark contrast to some of our other favorite Rhode Island waterfront locations, which have seen a notable increase in trashy detritus in recent years.  We have noted an increase in both litter and trashy behavior at a number of places since the RI state beach admission fees were raised in 2011; apparently, the word has spread rapidly in certain circles about waterfront locations that do not charge admission fees during the summer months.  We rarely visit Rome Point during the summer, but we suppose that the number of people taking advantage of the free bay shore access has increased here as with other locations that we frequent in the summer. Thanks to everyone who helps to keep Rome Point preserve so clean, the community of Rome Pointers who care for this special place is a big reason why it remains such a special nature treasure year after year.

During the last two weeks of September, we were privileged to take a trip out west to Colorado and Wyoming for some spectacular wildlife observation and outdoor recreation.  I formerly lived in Colorado for over ten years, but it has been eight years since I have been back out to the Rockies.  There have been a number of changes to the western landscape since our last visit, including many square miles of pine trees ravaged by beetle-kill and wildfire, unprecedented low water levels in reservoirs and lakes, and vast, previously unspoiled areas newly disturbed by gas and oil development.  Still, there seems to be an ethic of environmental stewardship that permeates the mountain towns we love, and a level of appreciation of the natural world that is much diminished on the urbanized eastern seaboard.  You could drive for a hundred miles out west and not see a single piece of trash along the road; even in rural Hope Valley where we reside, you would be lucky to travel a single mile before encountering roadside litter.

Upon our return from our rocky mountain vacation, I had some difficulty re-acclimating to the pace and tenor of life in the northeast. Leave it to Rome Point to renew my faith in (some of) my fellow citizens, as this local nature hideaway remains just as unspoiled as we left it back in April.  We find a measure of inspiration and encouragement in the small favors that people do out as they go about their business; sometimes the collective action of a small group can have an effect much greater than the sum of the effort expended. In the case of Rome Point, a few people keep the area clean, which in turn makes the preserve nice for all the visitors to this semi-urban nature oasis.  Encountering such a clean natural environment surely motivates some visitors who might be inclined otherwise to pick up after themselves for a change.  The big payoff is a clean family nature experience that is free for everyone to enjoy and that constitutes a gift that is rich with rewards on so many levels as to be priceless.  Thanks again to all visitors who take the time to care about Rome Point, you know who you are, but you might not realize how much your good deeds contribute to keeping this special nature preserve truly wild and natural.


2011-2012 Season

4/20/12 - Last seal watch for the spring 2012 seal season! 5 seals hauled out, 65 degrees, wind S 10 increasing to SSE 15, clear, 13:00
The windy conditions kept the seal numbers down today, but sometimes the number of seals present does not indicate how interesting a particular seal watch turns out to be. That was certainly the case today for our last seal watch of the season, as four of the five hauled out seals managed to get into skirmishes over territory. The two yearling seals that shared the slanted rock had a couple of fights before the first seal on the rock moved into a position that left adequate personal space for its rock mate. More interesting were the two large seals who squabbled repeatedly over a prized submerged rock; these roly-poly specimens had a couple of ferocious encounters before the larger seal finally got the better of its worthy adversary. The yearlings on the slanted rock posed nicely for several families with small children who came out to see some seals on the last day of the April spring school vacation; but after the wind picked up and shifted to the east the seal watchers stopped coming, the big seals took to the water, and we took one last look at the yearlings on the slanted rock before we packed up and ended our seal observations for this spring.

The 2011-2012 seal season at Rome Point began with some outstanding seal observations in October, and seal watching was consistently good through the first week of April. News of dead juvenile harbor seals washing up on the New England shoreline were troublesome in November and December and we checked out a couple of seal carcasses on the Narragansett bay shore in December. In light of the unusual seal mortality event, it was no big surprise that the number of first and second year seals that we observed was relatively low throughout the winter. With fewer juvenile seals than usual the number of seals we spotted on any given day was slightly lower that in past seasons; this was particularly evident in March when the seal numbers are at the peak. This was the first season in over ten years of seal watching when we did not log at least one seal observation of over 150 seals, however, we did have very consistent observations of 110 to 130 seals from the first week of March through the first week of April.

The unusually warm early spring weather brought frequent windy conditions and on some of the better days kayaks showed up, to the detriment of seal watching. Thankfully, the seals made it through this season with minimal harassment from any commercial fishing activity, however, the same kayaker spooked the seals twice while we watched and would have done so again today, had the windy conditions not caused her to turn back before she approached the rocks. The combination of the seals being spooked repeatedly, windy days with the wind coming straight out of the north or south, and unusually warm water temperatures made this the most disappointing April for seal observation in recent memory. We managed to end our seal watching season on a high note with a couple of fun outings on our last two seal hikes that were enhanced by the seal seeking families that we met; at Rome Point, its not all about the seals, its the complete experience of sharing exceptional nature observation with all of the friendly folks who make their way to see the harbor seals that winter here.

One interesting aspect of the seal watching experience is how each individual seal watch has a same but different duality similar to that which characterizes life in general. This spring, I passed the 500th seal hike milestone, which brings to mind a comment someone made to me back in 1999 when I first started observing the seals regularly. I was remarking about how interesting the seals were and how much fun I was having checking out the seals through my telescope and this young woman responded "yeah that sounds like it would be neat to see once", with her emphasis on "once" indicating that she would find hiking out to see the seals on a regular basis tedious or boring. Now, I will admit that if this was a year-round hobby, some of the novelty would no doubt wear off after while; however, the seasonal nature of watching the wintering seals has a rejuvenating element involved. In addition, the fact that this nature show takes place during the winter months means that there are considerably fewer outdoor activities competing for our attention, while the brisk 2 1/2 mile hike provides a regular source of outdoor exercise. I suppose many people might share the sentiments of that young acquaintance, but the daily seal observations published here surely show that no two days are ever the same at Rome Point and should also serve to demonstrate that "you never know" what you might be privileged to see if you make close, attentive nature observations.

I know for sure that my powers of observation have been developed to a much higher level from my 1500+ hours of seal watching, and that I am readily able to achieve a relaxed but alert mental state within a few minutes of settling into my seal observation routine. I believe that mindful nature observation has powerful beneficial effects on mental and emotional well-being that bear some similarity to meditation, yoga. or tai-chi; the writings of noted tracker and nature author Tom Brown Jr. are a good source for gaining an introduction to this concept. We are of an age where some of our loved ones are passing from this life, and we welcome the peaceful state of mind that nature observation invariably provides even in times of grief or stress. I would never presume to advise that nature observation is the only way to achieve a degree of peace of mind that is not otherwise attainable... but I can state with certainty that it works wonders for me.

After 500 seal hikes, I end this seal watching season with fondest hopes that it will be my blessing and privilege to be graced with the good health and good fortune to do 500 more; for me at least, once was just not sufficient. Lately, I have been reflecting on the concept of the "last good day" and once again, I find a parallel to life writ large in the seasons of the seals. The passing yesterday of the much admired musician Levon Helm, as well as other recent passings, have left me wondering what my departed life companions did on their last good day... and also whether their passing marks the first great day of another existence not known to the living. I would consider myself to be truly blessed if my last good day was spent sharing a wonderful nature experience with family and friends and my wish is that all who read this would be similarly blessed in their own way.

I take comfort in the thought that, as sure as the last good day for seal watching has come and gone for this season, there will surely be a first good day of seal watching to follow in fall when the next season of the seals begins. May your last good day be far, far away, may the first good day of the next season of your life be close at hand, and may we all be graced with the wisdom to hold all of our good days and true companions near and dear to our hearts.

4/19/12 - 27 seals hauled out, 65 degrees, wind S 5 increasing to 15, cloudy to clear, 12:00
When we first arrived at the seal beach, we were pleased to see that the seal present had not been disturbed; we can tell by observing that the seals were already dry two hours before low tide. Most of the seals were large adults, with only three or four juvenile seals on the rocks. The wind conditions were ideal at first, so any seals in the area should have been present and accounted for, so.today's observation indicates that most of the wintering seals have departed on their northward migration. While this is unusually early for the seals to get out of town, we expected as much, as the bay temperature is a good 5 degrees warmer than usual for this time in April. The wind picked up shortly after we arrived, and the seals were suitably unsettled by the strong southerly breeze; some of the big seals on the flat rock moved to a less splashy location as wind-driven waves began to crash on the rocks. We were joined in our seal observations today by an especially nice group of seal watchers who greatly enjoyed their seal sightings and who got an opportunity to shoot some keepsake photos through the scope.

4/15/12 - 5 seals hauled out, 65 degrees, wind SW 10, clear, 10:00
5 seals at Greene Point for 10 seals total. Easily the most disappointing seal watch of the season, as we had high hopes for a big seal show under ideal spring conditions. This was not meant to be, however, as the seals must have been chased from the haul-out rocks well before our early arrival at 9:20. The few seals that remained in the area were all large adults, but they spy-hopped nervously and hauled out tentatively, indicating they had certainly been disturbed before we made it to the beach. I expected this might happen on a fine spring Sunday, which is why we were there so early in the morning, but it was both surprising and a bit disheartening that someone managed to spook the seal herd so early in the morning. We did have interesting observation for a while as several seals fought repeatedly for the same submerged rock, but by low tide at 10:30 the seals were leaving and we departed as well.

We found ourselves with some spare time on our hands, so we made our way over to the Gilbert Stuart Museum to check out the herring run. In spring the river herring ("buckies" ) run up the stream at the head of the Narrow River; these anadromous fishes reproduce in fresh water and a fish ladder has been installed to allow then access to the headwaters so they can complete their breeding cycle. Reports from herring runs all over Rhode Island indicate that the buckies are making a comeback after years of over-harvesting and loss of access to their breeding grounds due to man-made obstruction of the waterways. An impending ban on "pair trawling" coupled with conservation efforts by groups of dedicated sportsmen who take to the streams to net the staging river herring and carry them past the dams that block their passage will, we hope, result in a happy ending to what is looking like a conservation success story. As we watched an osprey crash the herring party to take its breakfast (ospreys being another conservation success story), our day was brightened a bit as this timeless tableau of the natural world unfolded before our eyes.

Our spring nature observations have generally been disappointing this year; I suspect that the early warm weather and severe drought we are experiencing has thrown us off our game to some degree as the usual patterns and rhythms of spring migrations and animal behavior have probably been altered. I am not sure if it was disappointment that the seals were spooked for the third time in the last four seal observations, or frustration that our upcoming schedule will leave little time for pursuit of outdoor recreation, but this day left me with a strange sense of discontent that was most unusual for a day of nature play. Although some harbingers of spring are obviously arriving early, others are curiously absent and I find the unusually warm, dry weather we are experiencing to be unsettling. Today was going to be our last seal watch for this season, but now I am especially motivated to somehow make time for at least one more hike to Rome Point this spring,to see if we can manage to end our seal observations for this spring on a more positive note.

4/07/12
- 55 seals hauled out, 50 degrees, wind NW 15+, clear, 13:30
The wind was howling out out of the northwest today, and it was apparent early that this was not going to be a big seal day in terms of numbers of seals. This day proved nonetheless to be one of the best seal watches of the season, thanks to the many eager seal watchers who joined us at Rome Point in the early afternoon. Our friends from Girl Scout troop 136 met up with us again to watch seals today, and we made a number of new friends as well. The seals were unsettled because of the windy conditions and this resulted in a good amount of interesting behavior to observe, despite the relatively low number of seals present. It was fortunate that the tide today was extra-low due to the full moon, as the splashy bay conditions would have kept the number of seals hauled out even lower if the exposed rocks had not been higher than usual above the wind-driven waves.

4/06/12 - 85 seals hauled out, 50 degrees, wind NE 10 to 5, clear, 12:40
Upon our arrival it was apparent that most of the seals had been for a swim recently, as all of the seals to the left of the mound rocks were wet, while the seals on the flat rock and mounds were high and dry. This made me suspect that we missed the peak number of seals that were hauled out today; this was confirmed by a friendly couple of seal watchers from CT who had arrived earlier and were very helpful in providing me with info about their seal observations. We enjoyed extraordinary optical conditions to get prime close-up looks at the seals in the mid-day sun, which rarely happens in the spring when the humidity is higher and the telescope image tends to blur at higher magnifications.

I saw a pair of kayakers coming out of Wickford Cove, but when they headed down the center of the west passage propelled by a tailwind and the strong spring tide current I figured I had seen the last of them for several hours. Unfortunately, my presumption was in error, as one of the paddlers suddenly pulled a 180 and reversed course back past the seal rocks. On this second, slower pass about 65 seals were spooked by this kayaker, who beached on Fox Island to perform so kind of kayak maintenance duty. In short order, this kayaker launched again, joined his friend well down the bay, and returned with his paddling partner to chase all of the remaining seals away for the rest of the afternoon.

The seals shown below are fleeing in fear of the oncoming kayaks; so unfortunate, as the kayakers mean no harm and the seals have been spooked repeatedly by kayaks in recent days.


4/04/12 - 100 seals hauled out, 55 degrees, wind NW 10 to 15, clear, 11:20
The seals were spooked within 10 minutes of my arrival by a solo kayaker who approached the haul out rocks and chased the entire seal herd from the area. The seals made a loud splashy commotion as they took to the water and unless the female paddler was completely oblivious, she had to know that she chased the seals from their resting place. This same kayaker was seen in the area on March 21, with similar results; that's two strikes on this 10 foot yellow Prodigy kayak. I watched where she beached on the shore and if this kayaker repeats today's performance, she will be receiving a polite request to show a little more respect for the seals that make Rome Point their home. 

Sometimes when the seals are spooked early in the ebb tide they will return to the rocks, but in this case the kayaker hung around too long so the seals headed south towards the ocean. I stayed to watch for a 1/2 hour and when no seals returned I decided to eat my lunch and packed up to leave. As I finished my sandwich a few seals started to haul out so I stayed a while longer; sure enough, by the time I left an hour later there were 26 seals on the rocks. I believe these were seals that arrived after the kayaker departed, as they were not the usual seals in their regular locations and the seal with the net entanglement injury was on the flat rock where it has not been observed before. This was all good and interesting to see for a regular seal observer like me, but I would rather the seals be left undisturbed and their behavior unaffected by interactions with people, even if it is interesting to see what happens when the herd is spooked off the rocks.

4/03/12 - 122 seals hauled out, 50 degrees, wind NW 10 to 20+, clear, 11:00
7 seals on far rock for 129 seals total. Mighty fine seal watching today in spite of ferocious NW wind and rough bay conditions. Shortly after the 11:00 count, about 60 seals spooked off the twins/ridge rock area and as these seals returned to the rocks this triggered 1/2 hour of seal territory squabbles that rivaled the brutal bay conditions in ferocity. From the shelter of the cedar trees I watch at least 6 bouts between equally matched adult seal rivals, some of these seal fights ranked up there with the most aggressive seal battles I have ever witnessed. There was a lull in the action after the seals sorted out their turf wars, but as the seals departed on the flood tide several seals commenced a frolicking aerial display with multiple seals porpoising at the same time. For a two hour seal watch this one was certainly action-packed, and we have high hopes for continued good seal watching through the upcoming full moon period. We are still looking for a big 150+ seal day and if it's going to happen this season it should happen within the next 10 days.

3/22/12 - 124 seals hauled out, 70 degrees, wind SW 5 to 10, haze to clear, 11:50
6 Seals on far rock 130 seals total. Outstanding seal watch today, with tons of seals, improved light quality, and the full range of seal behavior on display making this early spring day the best seal watch so far this season. The tide was later today and the SW wind was warmer, making fog a non-factor for the first time since Sunday; this allowed us to watch the seal herd come in to the rocks and haul out, which always provides the most interesting behavior to observe. The seals were especially jumpy, with the most porpoising behavior we have observed this season. At one point there were 3 different seals jumping for joy simultaneously, which is a rare treat to witness.

There was plenty of territorial warfare and loud vocalizing as the seals hauled out, and after 50 seals were spooked by a passing boat at  12:00, the seals got after it again for another 1/2 hour bout of feisty fussing. Linebelly was on his usual rock, the Grey seal was back among the harbor seals on the cluster, and the seal with the necklace scar was back on the same rock as yesterday, so all was right in seal world until 13:10, when a large portion of the herd spooked for no reason that I could detect. Most of these seals left the area, and they also left me wondering if perhaps it was uncomfortably warm for the seals on the rocks today. By 13:50 there were 63 seals still on the rocks, but the remaining seals were resting in positions that gave onlookers good views, so I decided to stick around well into the late afternoon.

On the hike back to the car, I encountered 6 wild turkeys on the trail, and as I walked into the parking lot a whistling osprey circled overhead. This day had every ingredient that makes for exceptional nature observation, including some fascinated first-time seal watchers who were suitably amazed at what they were privileged to see today at Rome Point. I am very close to accomplishing my 500th seal walk milestone, but I still felt privileged myself to enjoy such a beautiful day at one of my favorite hangouts.

3/21/12 - 121 seals hauled out, 65 degrees, wind calm to S 10, fog to haze to clear, 11:00
6 Seals on far rock and 4 at Greene Point for 131 seals total. About 80 seals spooked at 11:14 for no apparent reason, as they have been doing on a regular basis this spring. 45 of these seals came back and provided good examples of seal haul out behavior when they returned. This did not last long however, as a lone kayaker passing through the area spooked the seals again at 11:30, leaving only 20 seals on the rocks with two hours to go until low tide. A few additional seals arrived to boost the seal count to 35 by 13:00, including a seal with a tight net entanglement around its neck. A pretty good seal watch all in all, but it would have been better had the kayaker not disturbed the seals; still, any day the we get to observe over 100 seals is a fine seal watch in our estimation.

3/20/12 - 130 seals hauled out, 55 degrees, wind calm to S 15, fog to haze to clear, 11:30
8 seals on far rocks for 138 seals total. Seal observation has been tricky the past couple of days with fog obscuring the view early in the morning when the seals are hauling out... which is the most interesting time to observe these animals. By the time the fog has burned off, the seals have settled into rest mode; that is, until they spook, which continues to occur regularly from 1 1/2 to 1/2 hour before low tide. Right on cue the seals suddenly took to the water at 11:50 today, leaving only about 20 seals remaining on the rocks. On Sunday, many seals returned to the rocks after a brief swim, which provided lots of interesting behavior to watch; but today, a building south wind served to deter the seals from coming back to the rocks. The fog came in and out of the area up until 13:00, in fact, at some points the fog bank was so thick that the Jamestown bridge was hidden at mid-day, which is a rare occurance.

When I first arrived at the seal beach, I immediately heard an unusual sound coming from the seal rocks; I had heard this high pitched howling yesterday, but not as loud and clear as I heard it today under the calm conditions. There was no doubt that one of the seals was making this sound, but in all my years of seal observation I have never heard a harbor seal howling instead of growling. As I surveyed the seal herd, the answer to this puzzle became apparent: it was the lone Grey seal that was making the mournful howling vocalization. The Grey seal was flapping its flippers in exasperation at the neighboring harbor seals and it tilted its head almost vertically as it made the haunting, long-winded sound, which was almost musical in the purity of the pitch and tone. Hearing this beautiful wild animal vocalization made me wish there were Grey seals hanging around Rome Point more often, as hearing the call of the Grey seal on a recurring basis would contribute an additional wild accent to the already amazing nature show at Rome Point. 

3/19/12 - 86 seals hauled out, 65 degrees, wind calm to S 10, clear, 12:30
8 seals on far rocks and 4 at Greene Point for 98 seals total. We were late to the seal party today, so we probably missed out on the best seal observations of the day. Despite challenging optical conditions, today's seal watch was interesting enough to hold our attention for a couple of hours. The Grey seal we spotted yesterday was back again among a crowd of harbor seals on the cluster and Linebelly made an appearance on the pointy rock. We could hear the seals fairly well in the calm conditions, and I heard a strange, staccato utterance emanating from the flat rock. One of the big seals was coughing repeatedly and his distress was clearly visible through the spotting scope. This seal has apparently contracted some kind of illness; I recalled seeing this same seal panting and heaving a little bit a week ago. I watched this animal closely as it continued to show signs of sickness, including panting, drooling, and even mild regurgitation This seal bears watching closely, as it looks like it may have something serious wrong with it.

I had seen two small snakes on the hike in on this sunny, unseasonably mild day, so I was sneaking and peeking at I walked past the most narrow section of the peninsula. I have seen large blacksnakes in this area in the past and sure enough, I surprised a fine 4 1/2 foot specimen crawling beneath a cedar tree. The snake took to the tree when it saw me, and I was treated to the always amazing sight of the snake climbing up into the branches to flee from me. I love watching snakes maneuver effortlessly in trees, this is an animal observation that always makes me wonder at the ease with which move so swiftly among the tangle of limbs and branches.

3/18/12 - 132 seals hauled out, 55 degrees, wind SW 10, Cloudy to clear, 10:45
5 seals on far rock and 5 at Greene Point for 142 seals total.  The best seal watch so far this season was made even more enjoyable by the pleasant company of our seal counting contest winners. The seals were settled into rest mode and most were already dry a full 2 1/2 hours before low tide. At first I was disappointed that my seal watching guests were not having an opportunity to observe much interesting behavior, as the seals snoozed placidly for the first hour of our visit. However, at 10:50 one of the yearling seals perched high atop the left "twin" started to move about and to hang over the edge of the rock as thought it was working up the courage to jump from the top of this tall rock. In short order the young seal barrel-rolled off the left side of the rock, detonating a big splash which triggered a chain-reaction flight response among the seals. Within 5 minutes the majority of the seal herd had taken to the water; only about 20 seals remained on the rock immediately following this self-induced seal disturbance.

With no real threat present it was predictable that many of the swimming seals would return to the rocks and they did so with a fair amount of the usual behavior that is displayed by a large group of seals hauling out. Some seals frolicked about in the water, performing solo porpoising exhibitions, while a few other swimming seals paired up for some playful flirtations. Other seals resumed their rest on the rocks, but it took about a half-hour of sporadic fighting and loud vocalizing for the seals to get all of their territorial issues sorted out. By 11:40 the seals had mostly settled down, but as I watched them I noticed a seal with a deep red color variation in the upper neck and head area. This seal, which was not readily visible because it was surrounded by other seals on the center cluster, turned out to be the first Grey seal that we have observed since December. As the noon hour approached, the sun came out in full glory, which served to diminish the optical conditions; but the steady stream of afternoon seal watchers still had the pleasure of observing about 80 seals on the rocks right up until our departure at 13:30.

3/12/12 - 105 seals hauled out, 55 degrees, wind SW 10, Clear, 16:00
4 seals on far rock for 109 seals total. A quick and somewhat distracted seal watch today as we met up with a TV crew from Connecticut who had inquired about Rome Point and asked to accompany us on a seal walk. The seal observation was interesting enough, but the light for telescope viewing was disappointingly poor for late afternoon and the pleasant TV personality who interviewed me seemed curiously distracted from observing the seals that they drove all that way to see. I suppose that she had to focus on the job at hand, which served to illustrate the inherent conflict between commercial and recreational activities. As soon as any kind of professional or commercial influence exists in a nature setting, a strange, quantum-like effect always kicks in that modifies the experience in some subtle (or overt) way. I once wrote about this in a song I composed... something about baking the daily bread separate from making the wine as I recall.

In any event, it will be interesting to see how the TV feature turns out; we will especially be interested in whether our on-camera remarks about watercraft leaving the seals undisturbed are left on the cutting room floor. We are undecided about participating in any media coverage concerning Rome Point and we have no interest, commercial or otherwise, in publicizing this special place. That said, it may be useful to use the media to help get the word out that boats and kayaks should not attempt to approach the seals; we are still mindful of spring 2010 when seal observation on weekends was frequently spoiled by the presence of watercraft in the area. I can't imagine that a TV feature that may appear in the Hartford, CT area will motivate a flood of Nutmeg State visitors to descend upon Rome Point, on foot or afloat, so we decided to participate in this venture; whether we shall agree to do something like this again in the future remains to be decided.

3/11/12 - 117 seals hauled out, 52 degrees, wind SW 10, Clear, 14:30
5 seals on far rock for 122 seals total. The most seals observed so far this year held our attention on this comfortable late winters day for the longest seal watch of this season. We watched the seals haul out today with only 8 seals present when we first arrived; this number quickly rose to 100 in less than an hour. Some late arriving seals displayed porpoising behavior, but for the most part the seals were well settled for such a large number of big animals in one location. A low astronomical tide contributed to the seal's lingering late into the rising tide, so I stayed around an extra-long time to share the great seal observation with many first time seal watchers. As the afternoon passed into the long daylight savings time evening the seals departed gradually; when I finally left after 5 1/2 hours on the beach, there were still 75 seals hauled out 2 hours after low tide.

3/10/12 - 100 seals hauled out, 42 degrees, wind N 15, to E 10, to NW 10 decreasing to 5, Partly cloudy 13:30
5 seals on far rock for 105 seals total. A surprisingly good afternoon of seal watching today, in spite of the north wind which usually serves to keep the seal numbers down; I was almost shocked to see all the seals on the rocks when I took a first look from far down the beach, I had much lower expectations under these wind conditions. The wind swirled, changed direction, and ultimately diminished as the afternoon progressed, so the seals were unsettled for quite a while until the final wind shift to the NW. Right after I counted the seals, about 45 seals spooked from the tall rocks and center rocks for no apparent reason, and many of these seals swam about for a while before hauling out again, putting on a 1/2 hour seal show of active seals for all the seal watchers who were around on this busy Saturday. There were several brief territory battles that were notable for loud vocalizations; we could hear the seal's growling especially well during the time when the wind blew from the east. After the wind switched to the NW, the seals gradually departed, but the astronomical low tide served to keep plenty of seals hauled out all afternoon. When we left two hours after low tide there were still 45 seals remaining on the rocks.

3/8/12 - 70 seals hauled out, 55 degrees, wind SW 15 to 25, higher gusts, Clear 11:30
Not much time for seal watching today, but our quick visit revealed that the seals are numerous and ready to rest at low tide. The wind was really howling out of the SW; this is usually a good wind direction for seal observation, but anytime the wind exceeds 15 knots, it is s sure bet that the seal numbers will be relatively low. The fact that we saw as many seals as we did today indicates that the next time we get a calm day, there will be an opportunity to see over 150 seals on the Rome Point rocks.

3/7/12 - 107 seals hauled out, 52 degrees, wind SW 15 increasing to 25, Clear 11:30
6 seals on far rock and 5 at Greene Point for 118 seals total. The large contingent of seals I observed today were a most welcome sight on my first seal watch in 2 1/2 weeks. I was hoping to see over 100 seals today and the seals did not disappoint, despite a brisk wind that fortunately blew from a direction that the seals favor. Shortly after I arrived, a low flying jet departing from Quonset airport made enough roaring racket to scare about 30 seals off the rocks, but as these seals returned they stirred up a fair amount of territorial squabbling for a short time. Just after my seal count at 11:30, the wind kicked up a notch; this put and end to the best seal observation of the day as the seals steadily commenced to leave, but there were still 40 seals hauled out when I left at 14:00.

It is not always possible to guess whether a particular seal is a male or a female, but when a pregnant mama seal shows off her big belly as pictured below, all doubt is erased. She does not look very comfortable, but this seal stayed on that pointed rock for about a half hour.


On the hike back to the parking lot, I heard an unusual bird call that sounded like it originated from some kind of raptor. Searching my memory, the sound reminded me of a few years ago in Acadia National Park when I observed a goshawk nest. When I finally successfully stalked the bird that was calling, I was please to see that, sure enough, it was a fine specimen of a juvenile goshawk. I am not especially adept at identifying uncommon birds by their call, so it was rewarding to pull that sound out of the memory banks and correctly associate it with the right hawk.

2/19/12
- 53 seals hauled out, 40 degrees, wind N/NE 10, Clear 11:45
4 seals on far rock for 57 seals total. The north/northeast wind made for a chilly seal watch today but the optical conditions were much better than yesterday, allowing a steady stream of visitors to get good close-up looks at the seals. The seals had an unsettled spell for about 45 minutes before low tide, so we enjoyed observing a number of seal fights until the seals settled into rest mode at 12:15. The ill at ease seals were doing a lot of vocalizing which we could hear clearly with the wind carrying the seal's voices toward the shore; the sounds that harbor seals make always impress seal watching newbies who are expecting to hear a bark or perhaps a yelp. Most of the vocalizing that seals do when hauled out is for the purpose of expressing their displeasure with a neighboring seal and these guttural growls sound surprisingly ferocious and bear more resemblance to the roar of a big cat than any sound that a dog makes. Harbor seals may communicate over long distances when they are in the water, but not much is known about the seal's language capabilities or the level of understanding that these animals may possess.

2/18/12 - 76 seals hauled out, 42 degrees, wind W 10, Clear 10:30
6 seals on far rocks for 82 seals total. Fine seal watching was enjoyed by the many visitors to Rome Point today, but the bright mid-day sun did adversely affect the quality of the lighting for telescopic observation. However, most seal seeking families could not care less whether the spotting scope can be zoomed in to high magnification, as the view through the scope is far superior to binoculars even under less than optimum optical conditions. When we arrived an hour before low tide the seals were already dry and settled down; I'm sure many seals were hauled out as early as 3 hours before low tide on this sunny day with westerly winds. Soon after our arrival, we observed a most unusual seal fight on the right side of the flat rock in which a big male seal was driven from its resting place by a vicious tail bite delivered courtesy of a rival that emerged straight out of the water as if propelled by a pogo stick.

At 10:40 about 50 seals spooked off of the rocks over the course of 5 minutes. The initiating event was the seals on the ridge rock making their customary splashy departure; as in other recent past incidents of seals suddenly taking to the water, there was no apparent reason for the seals on the ridge rock to take a dive. There was a boat in the area observing seals from a distance but it did not appear that the seals were even aware of the boat's presence. When the first seals jumped in the water they did so without any advance warning and they did not appear to be upset or scanning frequently prior to taking to the water. These same seals have been exhibiting this behavior on a regular basis and when they hit the water with a loud splash this has been triggering a flight response among other members of the seal herd. This has been taking place from 1 1/2 hours to 1/2 hour before low tide and both the number of seals that spook and the number of seals that return to the rocks varies on each occasion. This behavior is interesting and does cause some follow-up territorial issues when the seal return to the rocks; nonetheless, it would suit me fine if the seals on the ridge rock would just stay put and not spook so many other seals. It will be very interesting to observe whether this behavioral pattern persists into March, when we see the greatest numbers of seals; if it does so, it will be necessary to arrive at Rome Point especially early in the ebb tide to see the big numbers of seals this spring.

2/13/12 - 60 seals hauled out, 40 degrees, wind SW 20 decreasing to 10, Clear 16:30
5 on far rock and 3 at Greene Point for 68 seals total. It was a pleasure just to get out of the house for a walk after a weekend of uncooperative weather and the seal watching today seemed all the better for the relief it provided from cabin fever. The good late afternoon light usually allows for close up views through the scope, so it is always a pleasure to go for a seal walk late in the day even though time may be short before darkness intervenes. About 30 seals were already hauled out when we arrived at 2:30, well in advance of low tide at 5:00 pm. The highlight of the afternoon was when the seals on the ridge rock became unsettled around 3:30; in the process of leaving one of the big seals perched up high knocked a much smaller seal right off the rock. The little seal barrel-rolled over into the water and this acrobatic pratfall was captured on video for a future best of 2012 seal highlight production. After 1 1/2 hours alone on the beach, a few late arriving visitors were treated to good views of the seals and I was treated to some pleasant company as daylight faded on this fine winter afternoon.

2/10/12 - 68 seals  hauled out, 42 degrees, wind SW 15+, Clear 13:30
The fine seal watch today was good enough to hold my attention for almost 5 hours on the Rome Point beach. I watched the seal herd haul out, which is always interesting; but they did not cavort in the water as they arrived. The seals just picked a rock and flopped right into heavy resting mode, with little scanning. It appeared that the seals were really looking forward to a long rest after being disturbed yesterday and in anticipation of the stormy weather forecast for tomorrow. I don't know how they do it, but seals definitely show some ability to know in advance what the weather has in store a day ahead of time. I know from many observations that a nice day before a storm is a prime seal observation opportunity, as numerous seals will tend to haul out early in the ebb tide and will linger especially long as the water rises on the flood. The seals are perfectly happy with a southwest wind like today and with the pile driver that chased the seals away yesterday was thankfully silent this afternoon, so I expected that the seal watching was going to be interesting as the afternoon progressed.

The big seals that frequent the flat rock behaved much differently than the rest of the herd, and I was fortunate to get their unusual behavior on video. I have been wanting to get some better video of seals hauling out for awhile, so as the seals arrived at the flat rock I decided to let the video camera run while they hauled out. I usually shoot relatively short clips of video, as they are easier to review and edit, but today I let the camera run for 15 continuous minutes while the big boys hauled out. I was pleased with the footage I was getting and the rock was pretty full, but just as I was reaching for the camera to stop shooting there was a big splash in back of the rock and all of the seals on the flat rock suddenly lunged into the water. None of the seals on the other rocks showed any signs of distress; this is highly unusual, as the big seals on the flat rock are generally the last seals to flee unnecessarily. I figured the seals would return to the flat rock and decided to take advantage of the situation to get more haul out video, so I again left the camera running as the seals hauled out again. About 8 minutes into the second video, the seals that had hauled out bolted into the water again for no apparent reason; seeing the seals on the flat rock behave this way was a big surprise, as I had never witnessed such unsettled behavior from these dominant male seals before.

The third time the big seals hauled out, they finally settled down to rest for the afternoon. A fair number of seal seekers showed up in the early afternoon, and everyone was treated to good seal viewing under excellent lighting conditions. About 15 seals on the ridge rock area left those rocks at 1340, I am noticing that this seems to be a regular occurrence for this segment of the seal herd. I believe these seals usually take up stations on other rocks after taking a swim, as the total number of seals present was back up to 65 at 14:45. I heard the sound of a diesel engine starting up in the late afternoon and I was pleased to witness the departure of the pile driver. I lingered late into the afternoon to take advantage of the great light for photography and observation; life is going to get in the way of our leisurely seal watching pretty soon, so I was happy to take full advantage of the excellent marine mammal observation I enjoyed today.

When the light is good for high-magnification viewing, I always zoom in and give the seals a close inspection. Today I noticed that Linebelly had somehow got himself a bloody lip, giving this seal an even more bemused expression than usual.


The seal pictured below posed so handsomely in the evening light that I just had to post this image of such a fine specimen.
 

2/9/12 - No seals hauled out, 38 degrees, wind W/NW 10 to 15, Clear 13:45
8 seals on far rocks and 3 at Greene Point for 11 seals total. Prime conditions today but no seals hauled out on the Seven Sisters made today's seal watch a mystery to be pondered, if not solved.  When I arrived almost two hours before an astronomical low tide, I was most surprised to see not a single seal on the exposed rocks.  A half dozen seals were bottling and spy hopping in the area, but they would approach the rocks and then leave without hauling out. It was obvious that the seals had been chased from the rocks by some kind of disturbance before my arrival, but watercraft were nowhere to be seen. It was not an especially warm or calm day, and there are not usually any boats around to harass the seals on a Thursday in February. The point was sheltered from the wind and the sun was comfortable; as I sat for a while and watched the swimming seals I wished that I had arrived earlier to witness the seals being chased from the rocks. I did not expect that I would ever know what happened to the seals today, but I was not pleased, as today would otherwise have been a perfect day for seal observation. As I gathered my pack to leave, a steady metallic banging sound rang out from the  northwest. A quick inspection with my binoculars revealed a pile driver at work driving big pilings for a dock about one mile away. I have no doubt that this was the reason that the seals were not around today; mystery solved, I left with some satisfaction that I was able to determine why the seals were not hauled out today.

2/5/12 - 26 seals hauled out, 32 degrees, wind NE 10 to 15, Clear 11:10
The cold NE wind kept the seal numbers down and chilled us quickly, resulting in a brief seal watch for us today. The seals that were hauled out did entertain for a short time, but the light for the telescope was poor and it was too uncomfortable to wait for the wind to shift. There were a couple of yearlings on the tall rocks, Linebelly was resting soundly on the pointy rock, and there were no seals hauled out on the mounds or the flat rock when we left about one hour before low tide.

As we were embarking on our seal walk, we noticed a large group of people and dogs assembling at the trailhead. This was apparently a dog walking group who found out about Rome Point and decided to take a hike with their pets. All well and good, but too much of a good thing is... well, maybe not such a good thing. We hustled ahead of the pack and as we hiked through the woods we could hear barking and shouted commands as the hounds were unleashed. We arrived at the point ahead of the dog walking group but we were only there for a few minutes before the peace and quiet of Rome Point was disturbed by at least 15 dogs; most of the carousing canines were running wild and groups of dogs barked repeatedly. While we like dogs very much and enjoy visiting with people walking their dogs; the sheer number of unleashed dogs in one place at one time today was, in our view, not appropriate for a marine mammal nature preserve. On this day with a NE wind and a small number of seals on the rocks, the presence of  a bunch of barking dogs on the shore did not have any effect on the seal's behavior, but on days with different wind conditions and more seals around, we have seen dogs on the rampage disturb the seals and chase them from the rocks.

Readers of this journal know that we are protective of the seal's right to rest undisturbed. Dogs and responsible dog owners are always more than welcome; we are not animal control officers and do not mind at all if reasonably well-behaved pets are allowed to roam off lead, but when the seals start feeling uneasy because of dog activity on the shoreline, that will set me to growling at the animal's owners. We ask that if people want to let multiple dogs run free, with associated barking, that they do so down the beach to the south or in the back cove where the dog's barking will not disturb the seals. Everyone who visits Rome Point should be considerate to the seals that reside here; organized groups that let a number of dogs run off-leash would be well advised to get their animals under control before they arrive at the seal watching area, if they wish to retain the privilege to let their pets roam freely. Thanks to everyone for their continued consideration, we love the Rome Point dog show almost as much as we love seal watching, but at this special place, the seal's well-being takes top priority.

2/4/12 - 80 seals hauled out, 36 degrees, wind W/NW 10 to 15, Clear to high haze 10:40
4 seal on far rock for 84 seals total. Many seals were already high and dry when we arrived at 9:00, a full two hours before low tide. I suspect the seals did not have good wind conditions for hauling out for at least the past two days; when the seal numbers increase significantly and suddenly, this often happens following a couple of days of poor weather for hauling out. The local seal population was also boosted today by the arrival of about 10 first year seals; the yearlings usually show up in early January, but they took their time getting here this season. It was a relief to observe a good number of yearling seals, because a variant of the bird flu virus took a toll on young harbor seals last fall. The hauled-out seals were well settled until 10:45, when the seals on the center rocks became anxious for some indiscernible reason and most of the other seals also picked up their heads and started to scan more frequently. About 15 seals in the area of the ridge rock suddenly took to the water as though they were responding to a threat, but there was no apparent reason for the seals to be afraid. Within 5 minutes after these seals spooked, the wind picked up by about 10 mph and shifted direction slightly; perhaps the seals were responding to a blip in the weather that was imperceptible to human observers, as the seal's anxiety response seemed to be too closely coupled to the change in the wind to be a coincidence.

We had continuous good seal viewing until I left at 13:30, even then there were still about 50 seals remaining late into the flood tide. The seals enjoyed an unusually long rest period and certainly appeared reluctant to depart. While we did not see a great deal of interesting individual seal behavior today, this was nonetheless one of the better seal observations that we enjoyed so far this seal season.

1/29/12
- 46 seals hauled out, 38 degrees, wind SW10, Partly cloudy 16:30
A good late afternoon seal watch again, mostly because of all of the nice friendly people we met. The seals had about one half-hour of peak activity around 15:30, then they settled down quickly to a calm, restful state. There were a good number of first time seal watchers around late in the day, but judging by the parking lot and departing foot traffic we encountered on our hike, most people who visited Rome Point today arrived too early in the afternoon to enjoy good seal observation. Those who were fortunate to be out at the point between 3:00pm and 4:30 pm had very good seal viewing opportunities, especially for large adult seals on the flat rock and the right mound.

Late day seal tides allow us to enjoy other wildlife viewing opportunities earlier in the day, and we took advantage of the nice weather to take a couple of bonus nature hikes this weekend. On Saturday we headed out to Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge in search of the elusive Snowy Owl. Snowy Owls are creatures of the arctic realm, but they occasionally make their way south in the winter in search for a feeding ground with less competition for the available food. Snowy Owls have taken on a mythical aura in our family due to their uncommon appearance; when we venture off the beaten path on a Don Quixote-esque nature boondoggle, it is often referred to as "looking for a Snowy Owl". On this day, we were once more unsuccessful in our never-ending quest, as the owl departed a week ago after the snowfall. However, in seeking this rare creature we were treated to other nature delights, including a very good observation of a slinky mink and entertaining views of colorful Harlequin Ducks. We urge all seal seekers to take to the beaches, fields, and forests in pursuit of Snowy Owls as often your busy life will allow; you may never actually see one, but rest assured that your life will be all the richer for the effort.

1/28/12
- 40 seals hauled out, 45 degrees, wind S10, clear to cloudy 16:30
The seals were slow to show with the south wind holding the water up in the bay, but they came on strong about an hour before low tide and put on a good show for late afternoon seal watchers. The light for the scope was good and a steady stream of agreeable onlookers enjoyed fine seal watching right up until daylight faded. Highlights included porpoising seals and a late arriving small seal that scaled the pointy rock most frequently occupied by Linebelly. One seal had a distinct fresh wound on its belly that was almost a perfect semi-circle and on the inside edge of the raw flesh several ragged punctures were visible. We often see seals with wounds on their bodies but we can only speculate how the seals receive their injuries. We can't say for sure how the seal we saw today got that wound, but if ever there was a wounded seal that looked like it was the recipient of a shark bite, that would be the seal we saw today.

1/26/12 - 56 seals hauled out, 42 degrees, wind calm, cloudy 14:30
2 seals at Greene Point and 1 on far rock for 59 seals total. Excellent seal watching for January with calm, cloudy conditions.  Calm, cloudy days are much favored for seal observation because the seals often swim and play more on the surface of the bay under calm conditions and overcast days usually provide optimal optical conditions for telescopic viewing. Both of these factors were in play today, making for active seals that could be closely observed with a zoomed-in scope. I managed to watch two seals porpoising repeatedly through the scope; I regularly see jumping seals through my binoculars, but it's a special treat (as well as a trick that takes some observational savvy) to watch these 200+ pound animals go airborne through a 55x zoomed spotting scope. A third factor that played into the breaching seal observations today was the fact that, for the second day running, I had Rome Point all to myself and was not distracted by the presence of other people. I have many opportunities to socialize with other seal watchers at Rome Point, but mid-week in January presents an opportunity of another kind: a chance to make close-up, detailed observations that I cannot conduct on weekends when seal watching takes a turn for the social. I am fortunate that my self-employment allows me the time to take advantage of both solo and group nature observation, and I have come to appreciate the positive aspects of each activity.

Just as I was concluding my seal watch, I spotted a seal frolicking on the surface and decided to shoot some video, taking advantage of the good lighting conditions. I was rewarded with a video of a pair of excellent, forceful tails slaps that resounded across the bay like the reports of a .22 rifle shot. When I got home and played back the video, it was pretty neat to hear that the sounds of the seal's tail slapping the water was clearly audible, providing another tangible reward for my solo seal watch: no conversation in the video soundtrack to drown out a rarely heard sound of nature.

1/24/12 - 45 seals hauled out, 45 degrees, wind variable SW10, to W10, to Calm, S/SE 10 to Calm to SW10, clear 14:45
Seal watching today was one of the most strange and interesting days ever from a seal behavior standpoint. I took an entire page of notes as the seals remained mostly unsettled for nearly all of the 3 1/2 hours I stayed at Rome Point. I can sometimes tell right away that the seals are going to behave unusually, and I got that feeling immediately when several seals hauled out then returned to the water within 5 minutes. The tide was an astronomical low tide so I expected that seals would be hauling out early in the ebb tide, but they seemed reluctant to take their stations on the rocks. By noon there were 31 seals on the rocks and another 5 swimming around; there were swimming seals visible most of the time I was watching seals today. Even the seals that were on the rocks scanned and fussed nervously for much longer that they usually do after hauling out, with occasional coming and going from the center cluster rocks causing sporadic, brief territory squabbles.

There were several characteristics of this day that may explain why the seals displayed such erratic, unsettled behavior. A weak cold front passed through the area, causing the wind to change speed and direction several times. Also, this was one of those days when sound carried exceptionally well; at times you could clearly hear a variety of noises from Quonset Point, Route 1A, Hamilton, and passing aircraft. It was obvious that the seals were responding to the sounds and several times a few seals left the rocks in response to some auditory stimulus; airplane noise does not usually affect the seals, but it did today on occasion. At 12:15 a helicopter buzzed the area at an altitude of only about 500 feet, this scared about 15 seals off the rocks. Finally, a south wind often makes the seals fussy, and when the wind was blowing it had a southerly component.

Of course, fussy seals are often active seals, and active seals are the most interesting to observe. Porpoising, spy-hopping, tail splashing and some social play behavior was observed fairly regularly through the afternoon. The seals on the center cluster had at least 5 vociferous quarrels, and seals on other rocks also seemed to be unusually loud-mouthed and short-tempered, especially considering that their was plenty of space for everyone with only about 40 seals hauled out. It seemed like every rock with two or more seals on it was the scene of at least one skirmish as the afternoon passed.

The best observation of the day was a seal that decided to seize a rock from one very large seal that was already well settled in. The aggressor took a swipe at the resting seal's tail, causing the seal on the rock to raise its tail to a near vertical position. The attacking seal then proceed to jump vertically out of the water again and again, trying repeatedly to deliver a tail bite. Six times the determined seal lunged from the water, several times jumping almost 2/3 of its length in an amazing display of aggression! The seal on the rock held on gamely, hoisting its tail higher to fend off every attempted bite; but in the end the big seal rolled off the rock, allowing its adversary to win the prized haul out rock. Some time later, the big seal returned to the rock and managed to gain a perch on one corner of the rock, ultimately sharing the spot with its vicious adversary.

One unusual aspect of today's seal observation was that, for the longest time, no seals hauled out on the most favored flat rock that attracts the dominant seals of this herd. This happens sometimes on a southerly wind, but not so much when the tide is at an astronomical low level which leaves this rock high and dry. Today, at 14:45 a couple of seals finally hauled out on the flat rock, when they did so, this brought the number of hauled out seals to 45. In almost 500 seal observations I can count on one hand the number of times when the peak number of hauled out seals for the day occurred as late as 45 minutes after low tide; this was an appropriate end to a most unusual day of entertaining seal observation that I will remember for years.

1/22/12 - 37 seals hauled out, 26 degrees, wind Northeast to east 10 decreasing to 5, cloudy 13:00
7 seals on far rocks for 44 seals total. When we arrived there were only about 10 seals hauled out despite the low astronomical tide and all of these seals were wet, indicating that they were swimming only minutes before our arrival. I suspected that the seals were disturbed before we showed up; the mystery was solved when three loud shotgun reports rang out, chasing a few of the seals back into the water. Over the next hour, the shooting gradually abated as every duck within miles was frightened away from the area and seals steadily commenced to hauled out. Today was the last day of waterfowl hunting season so the seals should not be disturbed by gunfire anymore this winter.

The light was very good for telescope observation and the seals posed nicely for several groups of seal seekers who trekked out to Rome Point through the fresh snow. The seal count today was conducted by several young girls who were on a seal walk organized by the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Rhode Island. We enjoyed their company and I'm sure they enjoyed their seal watching adventure. We were all fortunate today that the wind died down as it shifted to the east, resulting in relatively comfortable conditions for seal observation that left me scrambling back to the parking lot at 14:30 to catch the kickoff of the Patriot's AFC championship game.

1/19/12 - 63 seals hauled out, 25 degrees, wind North/Northeast 10, clear 10:45
5 Seals on far rock for 68 seals total. Coldest seal watch of the season with an ice cold easterly wind blowing right in your face. If the wind had been any stronger, it would have been intolerable; as it was I could only look through the scope for a minute at a time before the onset of ice cream headache symptoms. I stayed an hour and got to watch about 20 seals haul out. The seals were vocalizing and their growls could be heard easily with the wind carrying the sounds toward shore. Linebelly was hauled out high atop the pointy rock, seemingly oblivious to the cold wind. The somewhat entertaining seal show was not sufficient to make me oblivious to the cold, so my stay at Rome Point was unusually brief today.

1/9/12 - 21 seals hauled out, 38 degrees, wind South 10 decreasing to 5, clear 13:00
5 seals on far rock for 26 seals total. I was late to the seal party today because I went to check out a dead seal report down in Narragansett. I did located this unfortunate animal, which was not yet significantly decomposed; this medium sized harbor seal did not have any of the lesions characteristic of the recent avian flu outbreak. This makes twice in 3 weeks I have examined a dead harbor seal; hopefully this is one trend that will not continue as the seal season progresses.

By the time I got to Rome Point there were only about 20 seals hauled out, all of the seals were concentrated on the two southern-most rocks. I have no way of knowing if there were large numbers of seals hauled out earlier, but I do know that it is rare to observe large numbers of seals on the rocks for three days in a row, so I was not surprised by the low seal numbers compared to the 90+ seals we observed over the past weekend. I expected this seal watch would be very short, but mother nature had other entertainment in store. Hearing pronounced rustle in the trees behind me, I turned around to be greeted by an especially bold gray squirrel, who proceeded to harvest the berries that were hanging from the vines draped over the trees. All of the easy berries had already been taken, so the industrious tree rat had to perform some extreme gymnastics on flimsy branches to get at the remaining repast. The squirrel paid no attention to me even as I approached within 10 feet, so I shot some amusing video of "Romeo" the Rome Point squirrel for my granddaughter's entertainment. After the gray squirrel finished off the berries it attempted to scale a nearby cedar tree, but was denied access by a feisty red squirrel who laid claim to the cedar as his personal domain. Squirrels are commonly observed, but I must admit that the antics of Romeo and the red squirrel held my close attention for the better part of a half hour.

As I was watching the rowdy rodents, I noticed a number of northern gannets soaring and flapping high above Bissel Cove. The number of birds in flight quickly increased to an estimated 80 gannets; causing me to wonder if there was some reason that I was suddenly seeing all of these birds. I made haste to the shoreline on the back side of Rome Point; looking out over Bissel Cove, I was pleased to spot an immature bald eagle soaring nearby. As the eagle gained altitude and departed to the west, I silently thanked the squirrels; usually squirrels would only draw a passing glance from me, but today these common woodland denizens attracted my attention for some reason and I was rewarded with an excellent eagle sighting that I would not have seen if not for Romeo carrying on behind me.

1/8/12 - 90 seals hauled out, 45 degrees, wind Northwest 10, clear with thin high clouds 12:45
Very good seal observation today with plenty of seals hauled out in good locations for viewing plus much better lighting conditions for the spotting scope.  There were 83 seals on the rocks at 10:00, a full 3 hours before low tide. At 11:20 the seals on the ridge rock spooked again very much like yesterday, and again this scared about 40 seals off the center rocks. However, unlike yesterday the big seals on the right mound and the flat rock did not leave. Within 20  minutes all of the seals that were swimming around returned to the rocks, unlike yesterday when a good number of seals left the area after they were disturbed. I am not sure why the seals on the ridge rock have been so jumpy lately, I thought it possible (but not likely) that the large group of observers on shore may have inadvertently spooked the seals yesterday, but I know that did not happen today. Is is also curious that all of the seals came back today, but only half of the swimming seals returned to the rocks yesterday after they were spooked. All of this somewhat unusual behavior is all well and good to observe, but it would suit me just fine if the seals stop spooking inexplicably so often and would settle down and stay put on the rocks for an uninterrupted rest period.

Seals being spooked is not without some benefit to observers on occasion and as luck would have it today was one of those days. Several of the seals that were swimming around decided they wanted to haul out on the already occupied flat rock; this resulted in the most intense territorial behavior that I have seen so far this season. The seals moving onto the the rock from the back definitely cramped the style of the seals already present and over about 5 minutes a contagious mood of discontent spread over the flat rock group. The ill contempt had to be resolved somehow and finally the seals started slapping and biting each other; at one point every seal on the flat rock (about 12 seals) was involved in the fracas. This seal skirmish ended the way most territory battles usually do when two seals had enough hassle and left the rock, making adequate space available for the remaining seals.

The past two days have been notable for the large contingent of seal watchers who hiked out to see the seals on this warm January weekend. It is fair to say that the past two days have seen the most seal seeking families ever to visit Rome Point on a single weekend, at least in my personal experience. Those families and groups who hiked out to Rome Point this weekend to see seals were treated to fine weather and very good seal observation opportunities, but as Rome Point becomes more well known and popular one might anticipate that issues related to parking and access may arise. The parking lot was filled beyond capacity on both days, and the on street parking is along the side of roadway where traffic travels at speed. We are happy to see so many nice families having such a good time on their seal walks, but when it comes to the traffic situation along the road on a busy weekend, we have some genuine concern and we urge everyone to be careful as they make their way to and from the Rome Point trails.

1/7/12 - 93 seals hauled out, 58 degrees, wind southwest 10 increasing to 15, clear 11:30
An interesting January seal watch today with unseasonably warm temperatures inspiring record numbers of seal seekers to make the trek out to Rome Point. 90 seals were hauled out high and dry when we arrived at 10:45, indicating that the seals had arrived in force earlier than usual considering the tide level. I had foreboding feeling that this seal watching was too good to be true on such a temperate January day; this instinctive intuition turned out to be accurate. Early bird seal watchers definitely had the best of the seal show but the large groups of people who showed up around 11:30 were treated to the sight of numerous seals hauled out all over the rocks. At 11:45 a half-dozen seals on the high center rock (hereafter designated "ridge rock" for our future reference) made a splashy entrance into the water. This group of seals has made a habit of doing this recently, and their noisy departure has been scaring other seals off the rocks in a domino effect. This happened big time today in front of about 80 witnesses; I do not believe the large crowd of folks on the shore had anything to do with the seals spooking. However the herd did spook pretty badly when the panic spread, ultimately, about 70 seals took too the water for no apparent reason, including the big seals on the flat rock that are usually unfazed by false alarms.

At noon there were only about 25 seals hauled out, and it took a surprisingly long time for the seals to return to the rocks after they were disturbed. A group of kayaks passed by close to shore, but they were conscientious paddlers who went out of their way not to scare the seals. Slowly, seals returned to the rocks; at the height of the resurgence there were about 60 seals hauled out, including a group that returned to the flat rock to give many observers a good view of large harbor seals. However, this second act of good seal watching was short lived, as a second group of kayakers passed through the area. These kayakers approached from the south and also made a commendable effort not to scare the seals; they were successful except for the big seals on the flat rock that were giving us the best views. After these seals spooked a second time the best of the seal observation for the day was over, but we stayed out to enjoy the beautiful day and the company of the numerous people who selected this day to take a hike out to see the seals. By the time we left at 14:15, there were about 25 seals still hauled out almost two hours after low tide.

There was not a lot of interesting individual behavior to observe today,but as a group the seal's overall behavior was fascinating to attempt to evaluate. There are many factors involved in dictating how many seals are hauled out at any given time, and this was an especially complicated seal watch today. First, the calm wind in the morning coupled with the fact that yesterday was not a good day for seals to haul out resulted in a large number of seals hauled out very early in the ebb tide, considering that the low tide level was not especially low today. The seals must have moved onto the rocks when the rocks were still submerged, as they will do on a calm day. This gave them a head start on their rest cycle; I suspect most of the seals were hauled out 3 1/2 hours before low tide this morning.

Over the course of the morning the wind velocity gradually increased from the southwest, not from the west as was forecast. I have often observed the seal's departure as a south wind builds and I believe the group on ridge rock that triggered the first seal exodus of the day had enough rest and that the increasing wind caused their departure. For some reason many other seals took off when this first small group jumped in the water and made some commotion; it seems that the more seals are hauled out, the more sensitive the entire herd is to being spooked by any perceived disturbance. About 35 seals returned to the rocks after the herd spooked the first time and about 35 left the area and did not return, this tells me that the seals that headed out probably had a satisfactory rest before they left, as there was no continuing threat to drive them away from the rocks. Then you mix in an unusually large group of humans on the shore as well as kayaks passing through the area three times in two hours and you have a recipe for a confused bunch of seals. Notwithstanding all of the strange goings-on today, the seals still obliged us with a good seal show, still, it could have been much better had most of the seals not spooked 1/2 hour before low tide.

1/6/12 - 10 seals hauled out, 42 degrees, wind south 10 increasing to 15, clear 10:45
The stiff south wind was too much for most of the seals today; the number of seals hauled out decreased as the wind speed picked up. The only seals left on the rocks at low tide were a half-dozen big seals on the flat rock. This day was interesting as it illustrated the contrast in seal behavior from last Friday, when the wind also blew hard from the south. Last week the wind was diminishing as the tide ran out and the seals that initially showed the same reluctance to haul out as today eventually took their resting positions as the wind died down. Today, on an increasing south wind, the seals never did settle onto rest mode and left the rocks after a relatively short time as the wind picked up.

It was also interesting to observe about 8 seals swimming in mid-bay in line with the "yellow house" on the Jamestown shore. Seals can usually be observed swimming in this spot, even on days when the weather is not conducive for seals hauling out on the rocks. The seals will often float there with their noses pointing up in the air (bottling) and then submerge periodically for 3 to 5 minutes as if they are pursuing prey. I have always wondered why the seals have frequented this exact location every year; the only thing I can surmise is that there must always be fish in that area to attract seals on a continuous basis year after year. Today I resolved to paddle my kayak out there some calm morning next summer to see if I can get a clue about what is so special about this spot in the bay that attracts swimming seals on such a regular basis.

12/30/11 - 46 seals hauled out, 50 degrees, wind south 15 decreasing to calm, partly cloudy 16:00
Seal watching got off to a slow start with a strong south wind holding the ebb tide up in the bay and generating choppy waves that made the seals uncomfortable. At 14:30 there were 19 seals hauled out, then about half of those seals left the rocks, leaving only a small group of seals on the right mound that, fortunately, were well positioned for viewing. At about 15:30 seal observation improved greatly, with diminishing wind and a late arriving group of about 25 seals providing entertainment for a steady stream of seal seekers. These late afternoon seals were most feisty, displaying a good deal of porpoising and splashing behavior before they settled down to rest. The first two hours of seal watching were not so special, but the last hour made up for the slow start and pleased the seal watchers who showed up late on this unusually warm December day.

12/29/11 - 80 seals hauled out, 32 degrees, wind west 10, clear 16:00
7 seals on far rock for 87 seals total. Excellent seal watching today with light west wind, plenty of seals, and the seals especially active for December. The swans spooked about 15 seals around 14:00 and these seals started carousing in the water after they were disturbed. Several seals were porpoising and tail slapping; one seal jumped out of the water 7 times. The action continued on and off all afternoon as more seals arrived to rest on the late-day low tide. At 1600 a couple of seals were still porpoising while other seals slapped their tails hard on the surface of the water. One seal finished off the day by leaping out of the water four times in rapid succession. The seals finally settled down just as the sun was setting, concluding the most interesting seal watch so far this season.

Today I noted a lot of tail-slapping behavior and made some close observations of this activity through the spotting scope. It appeared that on some occasions the seals were deliberately slapping the surface of the water as hard as they could with fanned-out tails and it seemed to me that this was a purposeful act. I can only speculate about the purpose that this behavior may serve, but it does not appear to be related to any perceived threat, as is the case with tail-slapping beavers. At times I got the vague impression that the seals may have been expressing frustration, especially when they slapped the water in close proximity to hauled-out seals as though they were upset with the resting seals for some reason. Other times the tail slapping appeared to be done in a less forceful, almost half-hearted manner. From now on I am going to pay a bit more attention to splashing seals to observe any clues as to why they sometimes slap the water so aggressively while other times the seals splash more casually.

12/28/11 - 36 seals hauled out, 42 degrees, wind west 15 to 25, cloudy 15:00
A much more interesting seal watch than yesterday, despite the lower than average number of seals hauled out. The seals were more active today, with several seals porpoising as they arrived to take up their stations on the rocks. I was taking a video clip of my favorite seal Linebelly when another seal jumped out of the water in the background; this is the second time I have been fortunate in capturing a jumping seal on video in the past three observations. The photo below shows the jumping seal behind Linebelly on the pointy rock; not the highest jump I have ever seen, but good style points for the nice profile.


In short order, the same swans that spooked some seals yesterday showed up again to work their mischief. Today they scared about 15 seals off of the rocks; the photo below shows the swans swimming past a group of uneasy seals that are eying the swans closely.


After the swans departed, a couple of the seals that were spooked and swimming around put on a brief but very splashy tail slapping display. As the seals settled in to rest mode, I was visited by some especially attentive seal watchers. Chris from Warwick and his two exceptionally polite and interested young seal watching companions kept me company for a half hour and kept a close watch on the seals.The two little girls each took a count of the seals and I was pleasantly surprised when one of girls proclaimed that she counted 36 seals, which I knew was very close to the actual number of seals hauled out. Sure enough, right after they left, I made a count and came up with 36 seals, just as I was told. Most inexperienced adults have a hard time mustering up the concentration to get an accurate seal count on the first try; I was most impressed by both of these young ladies who demonstrated a level of patience and interest in the subtleties of nature observation that I see only occasionally in children so young.

12/27/11 - 42 seals hauled out, 50 degrees, wind south 10 increasing to 15, cloudy 13:00
The south wind served to hold the outgoing tide in the bay and probably contributed to the low number of seals observed today. The best of the seal watching was early in the afternoon, when 3 mute swans approached the rocks and spooked about 20 of the seals. The displaced seals swam in the area for a while and one seal put on a brief porpoising show, but the seals that eventually did return to the rocks took up positions on low rocks where they were not prominently visible. Fortunately the big seals on the flat rock and right mound were not intimidated by the swans and remained for most of the afternoon, providing good views of harbor seals for families who hiked out to see some seals as part of their holiday festivities. The week between Christmas and New Year's Day is one of our favorite seal watching times, as many families  visit Rome Point in search of the seals; we were pleased to have the opportunity to share our seal watch today with quite a few first-time seal watchers. Seal observation today was not especially interesting in terms of marine mammal behavior, but the friendly folks we met today more than made up for what was otherwise a below average seal watch.

12/25/11
- 70 seals hauled out, 34 degrees, wind calm to south 5, clear 14:00
4 seals at Greene Point and 12 on far rocks for 86 seals total. A very merry Christmas day seal watch with festive families and restive seals all meeting up at Rome Point for holiday cheer. Good lighting conditions and calm winds, coupled with a spring tide made for interesting seal observation as the seals took advantage of the extra-low tide to settle down for a long winter's nap. This yearling seal and its companion cormorant was perched high atop the white rock all afternoon; more young seals should be arriving over the next couple of weeks.


I was taking a short video clip of the seal pictured below for identification purposes when another seal jumped out of the water in the background.


The seal in the foreground above had a long rest on that rock, but later in the afternoon another seal arrived and attacked him. The resting seal spun around on the rock to fend off the aggressor, but was quickly out-maneuvered and driven from its resting place. The seal in the photo below is the victorious warrior enjoying the spoils of the battle.


There were about 60 seals remaining on the rocks at 15:00 when I noticed the big seals on the flat rock were suddenly alarmed by an intruder I did not immediately identify.  Over the course of five minutes, 40 or more seals quickly departed; I finally determined that the guilty culprit was a log that floated past the rocks on the incoming tide.  The log was oriented in the water so that two branches stuck up in the air like a pair of antlers so perhaps the seals thought they were under attack by a rogue reindeer; an appropriate end to a memorable Christmas day seal watch.

12/24/11 - 50 seals hauled out, 30 degrees, wind N 10-15, clear 11:45
The cold north wind made for a short but interesting seal walk today. Linebelly was perched high upon the pointy rock and some seals to the left of the center cluster took a high dive off their rock while we were observing them. It was too cold to linger at the point, but the fresh air and exercise was most welcome. We took a detour to check out a dead seal that has washed ashore south of the Rome Point preserve; this unfortunate creature is apparently a victim of the flu outbreak that has claimed a reported 162 harbor seal along the New England coast since September.

12/13/11 - 34 seals hauled out, 40 degrees, wind N/NE 10-15, clear 14:30
Stopped by for a quick seal observation sandwiched between Christmas chores, even though the chilly north wind did not bode well for a good seal watch. Fewer seals were hauled out than we are accustomed to seeing, this commonly occurs when the wind blows from the north. Nonetheless, I did get to visit with several groups of appreciative seal watchers and I enjoyed this brief brisk visit until the wind shifted more to the east; the cold wind in my face brought an end to my seal watch, which was for the best as I had other errands to accomplish. A seal walk for an hour or two is a good way to break up a busy day, and the convenient location of Rome Point makes it easy to fit some fresh air and exercise into a full holiday season schedule.

12/10/11 - 80 seals hauled out, 45 degrees, wind NW 10, mostly cloudy 12:30
The best seal watch so far this season with plenty of seals and lots of interesting behavior to observe. There was even a big male Grey seal bottling in the area for several hours, but this seal never joined his harbor seal cousins on the rocks. We watched as the seals converged on the rocks to haul out 2 1/2 hours before low tide and we observed many characteristic interesting behaviors, including territorial disputes, porpoising, and spy-hopping. The lighting for spotting scope observation was excellent so we were able to zoom in for close-up views; we determined that two seals sported "necklace" scars from encounters with fishing nets

The seal shown in profile below looks like it has a double-chin as a result of a net entanglement injury.


The photo above was taken in poor quality, hazy lighting conditions around 10:00; here is a photo of some other seals taken in better light to demonstrate how the quality of the light affects seal observation and photography.


One seal that showed up late in the ebb tide showed signs of the mysterious illness that has been taking a toll on harbor seals this fall. This seal had two unusual lesions on its left side, was panting, and appeared to be too weak to clamber up on an exposed rock. We will be watching closely for this animal in the future, but I suspect that this seal is in big trouble and we may not ever see it again. At 1315 the fishermen who are "conch" fishing in the area arrived to pull their traps. They have removed the traps that were closest to the rocks so I was hopeful that this activity would not disturb the seals; unfortunately, about 60 of the seals spooked, ending the best of the seal watching for this day. The fishermen did not approach the rocks particularly closely, so I was surprised that the seals were scared away. Only about 15 seals returned to the rocks after the fishing boat left the area, leaving 35 seals hauled out for late arriving hikers to observe.

12/4/11 - 60 seals hauled out, 55 degrees, wind calm, cloudy 9:45
An excellent morning seal watch with calm conditions allowing for good observations of seals swimming on the surface, as well as the hauled-out seals. The hazy optical conditions gradually improved, and some interesting behavior was seen as several late arriving seals were repelled from the already full to capacity flat rock. We encountered several of our long time seal watching friends on our walk, which always adds to the festive holiday atmosphere this time of year.

On a less festive note, there has been increased mortality of young seals documented along the New England coast this fall, with 146 dead seals found along the shore from Maine to Cape Cod thru early November. This is about three times the number of dead seals normally found during the fall migration, accordingly, NOAA has declared an unusual mortality event which allows resources to be directed to monitoring and scientific study of the unusual seal deaths. A dead seal was found down the beach at Rome Point last week; we have reported this sad event to the researchers at Mystic Aquarium. Stay tuned for more info on the seal deaths along the New England coast, we will be posting additional news here when we have a little more time to check out the latest reports.

11/15/11 - 72 seals hauled out, 68 degrees, wind W 10 decreasing to 5, cloudy 15:30
The best seal watch so far this year with many seals hauled out under calm, warm conditions. There was a fair amount of activity, including one large seal porpoising and some territory skirmishes and loud vocalizing  in the center cluster area. There were only two other visitors during my time at Rome Point this afternoon, but this friendly mother/daughter couple were fortunate to get a great look at the most seals observed to date this season. There is some commercial activity in the vicinity of the rocks now, it appears to me that "conch" fishermen are setting traps for channeled whelks. The seals tolerated the fishing boat today as it set and pulled a few pots close to the rocks; we will be observing to see how the seals are affected by this activity. Conch fishing is usually discontinued sometime around mid-December, so we hope this potential seal disturbance issue will take care of itself within a month or so.

11/13/11 - No seals hauled out, 55 degrees, wind S 15-25, clear 14:30
For the second Sunday in succession there were no seals hauled out on the mid-afternoon low tide. Strong wind and the presence of a couple of kayaks in the area probably accounted for the lack of seals today; we did observe at least four seals swimming, but none were near the rocks. One seal swam close to the shore and spy-hopped repeatedly to check out the beach so at least we did get a good look at this seal, which briefly exhibited unusual curiosity behavior before departing to the south. Interestingly, there were no other visitors to the point in the 45 minutes we were there, despite the full parking lot. Seals and seal watchers were in short supply today, despite the warm temperature that we are not likely to experience again until spring.

Seal watching was disappointing, but several other creatures obliged us with their presence over the course of the day. On a morning nature walk at Fisherville Brook, we observed a pair of playful otters frolicking in the pond for a good fifteen minutes. Then after dark on our drive home from Jamestown, we spotted a great horned owl looming over some unfortunate prey along the side of the road. Any day which includes otter and owl sightings is a good day in our book; we were more than happy with the wildlife we were privileged to see. With the entire winter seal watching season yet to come there are many good seal days to look forward to; but otters and owls are not so frequently observed, especially both on the same day.

10/30/11 - No seals hauled out, 45 degrees, wind NW 15-20, clear 15:30
The strong north wind was too much for the seals today, we suspected as much before we embarked on our walk, but I was on a mission to gather Asian shore crabs for fishing bait. However, all we got from our walk was refreshing exercise, as the crabs that were under every rock only two days ago have departed to parts unknown. This does not bode well for the fishing prospects either as the tautog have likely followed their favorite meal to deeper water not accessible to me in my kayak. The walk was pleasant enough and most welcome after being shut in by yesterday's early season winter storm, we were fortunate in Rhode Island to be spared the heavy snowfall and associated power outages that befell several neighboring states.

10/28/11 - 45 seals hauled out, 48 degrees, wind NW 10, clear 15:00
Another good early season seal watch with plenty of adult seals lying about in similar positions and locations as earlier this week. Linebelly has returned to his customary perch atop the pointy rock; he was there on Wednesday as well, so it looks like that will be his territory again for this season. Yesterday, I took a close look at some photos from the last two years to review spot patterns and other characteristic markings; this allows me to tell whether specific seals have returned to the same rocks that they occupied in previous years. As I have become more familiar with the individual animals, I have determined that the same seals return to the same rocks year after year. In many cases certain seals show a marked preference for a particular location on a rock and can be found there day after day throughout the seal season. There were at least 10 seals I recognized from the photos hauled out today and observed in places where they have rested in years past. Thanks to Linebelly and his distinctive scar, I was able to discern this interesting behavior, which I have not found documented anywhere in my study of seals. I am going to pay much closer attention to identifying individual seals this year, particularly in the early season when the seals behavior is relatively subdued.

10/26/11 - 52 seals hauled out, 52 degrees, wind calm to SE10, cloudy 13:30  
2 seals on far rock for 54 seals total.  Good seal watch with well-settled seals in repose under very good lighting conditions.  No one else ventured out to the point for the entire two hours when I was there, so it was a quiet, solitary seal watch today. There were light rain showers in the area, so no other visitors ventured so far from the parking lot. I usually appreciate a little company when I'm doing seal observation, but sometimes its nice to have such a special place to oneself. One benefit of having few other people and their dogs around is the wildlife watching in the woods is often enhanced when no one else is around to spook the critters. That was certainly the case today, as I spotted a whitetail doe on the main trail at the bottom of the hill from a distance of about 75 yards. I decided to stalk the deer using fox walking technique I have learned from books authored by renowned tracker Tom Brown Jr. to see how close I could get. The doe kept dropping her head to graze, allowing me ample opportunity to sneak up on her. When I got within 10 yards, I actually thought I might be able to get close enough to touch her; tagging a wild animal in this fashion is an elusive goal for tracking afficianados. Alas, she detected my presence at the last moment, but the deer just walked away calmly, apparently not sure what to make of the strange creature frozen like a statue only yards away.

Other creatures were out and about today, including some wild turkeys close to the point and numerous red and gray squirrels. The highlight of my walk was a close-up view of a great horned owl that silently swooped across the trail right in front of me; the ultra-quiet flight of the stealthy owl is always a treat to see and not hear. This was one of the most memorable walks I have ever had at Rome Point with regard to land mammal and bird observation; while I missed having anyone to shares the seals with today, the benefits of my solitary walk more than made up for the lack of social interaction on this particular occasion. There will be many days when there are lots of folks around to chat with, but a wilderness-type day in a suburban woodland is a special gift to be treasured and remembered for years to come.

10/23/11 - 44 seals hauled out, 60 degrees, wind N 5 to calm, cloudy 12:00   First Seal Watch for Fall 2011
I have been seeing seals on my fishing trips for at least a month, so today we decided to take a walk to see if any of our marine mammal friends would be hauled out to greet us on this fine autumn morning.  We had low expectations for success as there still are a lot of recreational fishermen out on the bay on calm October weekend days and the seals haul-out rocks often attract fishermen.  We could not have been more pleased to find numerous seals resting comfortably upon our arrival, with the fishing boats congregated in two groups far to the north or to the south of Rome Point.  A few kayakers in the area thankfully took care to leave the seals unmolested, so we were able to get good views of over 40 seals settled in and snoozing at low tide under excellent lighting conditions.  We recognized at least 8 returning seals from years past by their spot patterns, but I was a bit disappointed that my old buddy Linebelly had apparently not yet joined the party, as the pointy rock he favors was not occupied.  

At 1145, a group of 3 kayakers passed through heading south, the paddlers deliberately stayed close to the shore to avoid scaring the seals (thanks again kayakers, whoever you are).  The big seals on the flat rock were facing directly towards us and they observed the passing kayaks, this caused these seals to raise up their heads to get a better look in the manner typical of seals on the alert.  As I closely observed these seals to see if they would flee, I noticed a scar on the belly of the seal on the left edge of the flat rock.  Could it be?  Yes it was... Linebelly had returned and chose to take up station on the flat rock where the dominant seals haul out.  This year Linebelly has added considerable heft, so perhaps now he can hold his own against the other competitors for the prime flat rock territory.  It will be most interesting to observe whether Linebelly chooses to try to make the flat rock his haul-out home this season, or whether he decides to beat a retreat to the pointy rock upon the return of aggressive competing seals, especially the most feisty Guardian who has claimed ownership of the left side of the flat rock for many years.  

Out seal watching visit coincided with the noon hour today so not many visitors were around to share our seal watch, as most normal people are having lunch around that time.  As we returned to the newly improved parking area (asphalt has been laid to alleviate the craters at the parking area entrance and exit), many visitors were just arriving; we wished we could have stayed longer, but we were determined to work in a kayak paddle of our own.  After leaving Rome Point we went on a paddling tour of the Hunt River and were rewarded with an excellent sighting of an immature bald eagle, as well as several red tail hawks and a blue heron. It's hard to leave amazing wildlife to try to see more amazing wildlife and this tactic does not always work out well; on this fall day we were thankful to get in a kayak trip, as days for kayaking in 2011 are numbered, but the seal watching season has only just begun.
2010-2011 Season
5/1/11
- 35 seals hauled-out; 58 degrees, wind NE 10 to 15, clear 12:30   Last Seal Watch for Spring 2011
A stiff NE breeze made today's seal observation a challenge that turned out to be most worthwhile, despite the relatively low number of seals around as the seal season comes to an end. The seals were concentrated in the center area of the rocks with old reliable Linebelly holding court on the pointy rock. The seal with the net entanglement problem was perched up on a rock and appeared to be in better shape than yesterday, this seal displayed alertness and some mobility that was encouraging to see. It looks like the steady south wind last week really triggered the spring migration, as many of the seals we recognize were not present today and no mature female seals were observed.

At 1240 the seals were spooked by a boat passing close by, only 5 seals remained after the boat passed the rocks. About 10 seals came back, but they were soon spooked again by a second boat; once more, the persistent seals returned for more rest and relaxation. Over the next 90 minutes, the remaining seals slowly departed; the number of seal seeking visitors diminished as the chilly breeze picked up, and I was considering leaving but decided to stay awhile to enjoy the end of the last seal watch of my season in relative solitude. This turned out to be a fortunate decision, as I was about to be treated to a display of seal behavior that I had never observed before.

I was watching the seals on the center cluster when one seal abruptly hauled out on the right side of the rock, drawing slight attention and a cursory bite from another seal in close proximity. Thinking that these seals might fight a little bit, I kept watching; almost immediately, the seal that had just hauled out returned to the water...nothing unusual about that. Then the same seal once again quickly lunged out of the water onto the same spot it had just vacated, stayed about 1 minute, then slid off the rock into the water once more. In quick succession this pattern repeated again, than again, then again....the same seal on and off the same spot over and over. After this happened five times I realized that I was observing something unusual, so I kept a close watch and count as the obsessive-compulsive seal continued to repeat this activity.  A few more on-and-off the rock cycles transpired, then the pace quickened as the seal became frantic; while it was on the rock, the seal began laying on its left side and squirming while rubbing its head against the rock as though it was scratching an ear itch. For the last 6 times that this occurred the seal was obviously in a state of high agitation, appearing as if it was affected by some sort of physical or perhaps mental disorder. All told this poor creature repeated the haul out - slide in cycle 15 times in a 20 minute period; only when the other seals on this rock suddenly departed did this strange behavior cease.

So ended the seal watching season for me, alone on the beach watching fascinating and unusual seal activity that I had not seen before in 11 seal seasons. The 2010-2011 seal season could not have had a more appropriate ending, as this observation showed that just when you think you've seen it all, the natural world always seems to offer up another amazing sight that you never even imagined that you might witness. As I rode my bike back to the parking lot, I reflected on this days seal observation and considered that today represented a whole season of seal watching in many ways. There was the nice young couple that I met right away, new to Rhode Island nature adventures and eager to explore. Next came a woman and her two young children, when I offered to let them see the seals up close through the scope, those enthusiastic kids came across the rocks on a run and by the time they left they were thrilled to get such a good close up look at the wild seals. Soon, a couple with a young girl stopped by; as is often the case it took a minute or two for the little girl to get the hang of using the spotting scope, but when she did she lit up, happily exclaiming over and over how cute the seals were. Several older couples also stopped to visit, some I had met before, others were first time seal watchers, but all found the seals to be interesting and worthy of the walk required to see them. Of course, there were dogs, and toddlers too young to see seals, and people having a picnic, and some folks who did not stop to chat but who no doubt enjoyed their walk in their own way. All were present on this first day of May just like hundreds of other seal watchers who came before...who  have found Rome Point and made the trek out to see the seals that someone told them about, or that they read about, or that they saw on TV, or maybe even that they found out about on the Internet.

There were the seals being seals. Hauling out, frolicking about, sleeping and scanning, snapping at each other, growling occasionally, getting spooked, hauling out again, big seals and yearlings, dark with light spots, light with dark spots, wet and dry, swimming and bottling and spy hopping. Seals with minor wounds and a seal with netting tangled tightly around its neck, other seals flawless creatures or yearlings with their spotless fur. There was the courtly Linebelly perched proudly on the pointy rock that he has called home for the past six months and for every winter for at least the past four years. All soon to be off and gone to parts unknown, some to return next winter, some never to be seen at Rome Point again.

The past seal watching season was notable in several ways; a good early start then slightly lower than usual numbers of seals in January and February. There were only about half of the number of yearling seals observed this year as compared to previous years; but overall the seal numbers were comparable to other years, especially in March and April. On St. Patrick's day there were 166 seals on the rocks at Rome Point and on that day the Save The Bay seal count recorded 569 seals at various haul-out sites from the upper bay to Sakonnet Point and off of Newport. This is a new record for harbor seals observed in Rhode Island inshore waters, indicating that harbor seals continue to thrive in the Western Atlantic Ocean; perhaps too much so, and due in part to the unfortunate decline in numbers of large sharks. The resurging seal population may not be all good news, as the seals put a lot of additional pressure on forage fish stocks that gamefish and other fish species depend upon. With seals largely protected from human-related mortality and the seals predators in steep decline it may only be a matter of time until a level of imbalance is attained that may require a re-consideration of seal population management policy.

The seals at Rome Point had a very good season in a number of ways, not the least of which was the lack of commercial fishing activity taking place in the vicinity of the haul out rocks. Once the lobsterman pulled his pots in mid December, no other pots were set close to the rocks until just a couple of pots showed up last week, which is so late in the season as to be inconsequential. We are most pleased with this development and we hope this continues, as we are determined to protect the Rome Point seals from disruptive commercial activities. To date, we have not had to take any action to prevent the seals from being unduly harassed by lobstermen or other commercial interests and we are encouraged that this season showed great improvement over last year so that no action on our part was necessary to protect this unique seal haul out habitat.
We have said before that we much prefer to let sleeping seals lie and we are wary of arousing the ire of the fishing community, so we are relieved that the season has passed with negligible issues related to inappropriate commercial activity.

We are also very pleased to report that incidents of the seals being disturbed by recreational watercraft were at an all time low this season. Some of this good news was due in part to relatively cold, windy weather in March and April when boating activity on the bay starts to pick up; weekends showed an especially marked reduction in harassment incidents as compared to last spring. We cannot say for sure how much of this was weather related and how much was due to increased awareness on the part of boaters and kayakers, but we hope that this trend continues. The public at large needs to realize that the rocks off of Rome Point are a unique, special place for wintering seals and shore bound seal watchers alike and that chasing the resting seals from some of the best seal habitat in Southern New England is both illegal and inconsiderate. Hopefully the word is getting out among the boating public; the past season was certainly encouraging and we thank everyone for spreading the word and for showing the awesome marine mammals the respect that they deserve.

Also of note during this season has been the increased traffic on this website; we are truly grateful that this site has attracted a small following and are especially happy that all sorts of nice folks are finding the site and using it to improve their seal seeking explorations. I know that proud show-off Linebelly is happy that he has become a seal of some notoriety, possibly the most famous New England seal since Andre. Thanks to everyone who has contacted us on line and for all the positive feedback we have received. We are trying to maintain a balanced approach of informing people about the wonderful seals of Rome Point without overtly publicizing a place that has a limited capacity to handle visitors. Thanks to our seal watching friends, we are confident that we are on the right path so far and we trust that if we stray off course you folks will be the first to let us know.

So we bid farewell for now to the seals and to our ever-increasing circle of seal watching friends, as yet another seal watching season has passed. May all who pass this way be blessed with good health and good fortune until our paths cross again on the Rome Point shore, we all know how quickly this summer shall pass and soon enough, another season of the seals will begin

4/30/11 - 20 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind NE 5 to E 10, cloudy. 13:00
The big seals on the flat rock were high and dry, but all of the other hauled-out seals present when we arrived were wet, indicating they had been spooked off the rocks earlier. A boat showed up shortly after we did and scared some of the seals, despite keeping a reasonable distance between the boat and the rocks; some seals were already nervous from having been spooked previously. I had the feeling that there were probably a lot more seals around in the morning before any water craft appeared, but we were otherwise occupied and only had time for a brief afternoon visit today.

The light was excellent for the spotting scope so we could zoom in for close views of the seals and we observed the seal from last week with the netting still wrapped tightly around its neck. I hope that net cord rots away soon, because this seal was not looking too energetic and was foaming at the mouth a little bit. This seal still looks fat and the prospects for survival are good for this animal if it is soon freed from this restrictive choker, but foaming at the mouth is an ominous sign that the net entanglement is adversely affecting the health of this seal.

4/22/11 - 80 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind NE 5 to calm, then SE increasing to 10, cloudy to clear. 14:30
4 seals on far rock 84 seals total. We had hopes for seeing over 100 seals today, but those hopes were dashed when the southeast wind kicked up at 1445. No worries though, because by then we had been treated to one of the best seal watches of the season. As the number of hauled-out seals increased from 20 to 80 we observed the most active frolicking and porpoising behavior we have seen this spring, with at least 10 seals splashing their flippers or taking to the air in repeated porpoising displays. The seals vocalizations were readily heard while the breeze was from the northeast or calm, which always adds a wild accent to the various behavior displays. An excellent seal show this afternoon, with plenty of action to entertain everyone who came out to observe the seals.

One seal on the tall rock just to the right of the white rock had a loop of netting entangled around its neck; every so often we see a seal that has a remnant of an encounter with a trawl net wrapped around its neck like a necklace. Another seal off to the right had a necklace scar from a prior net entanglement incident. The seal with the scar was a large older animal; hopefully the seal with the netting necklace will survive and prosper into old age like it's scarred old compatriot.

4/21/11
- 75 seals hauled-out; 60 degrees, wind NW 10, increasing to 20 with gusts >30, clear to cloudy. 15:30
Another fine spring seal watch, with a fair amount of interesting behavior observed as the seals hauled out between 13:00 and 14:30. At 15:00, the wind picked up but the seals did not leave, allowing for some good afternoon seal watching with very good lighting for the scope. A pair of seals put on an extraordinary display of courtship behavior in the shallow water in front of the cluster; most of this behavior takes place in deeper water so it was very unusual to see a couple of seals carrying on this way while only semi-submerged. I managed to get some interesting video of the amorous pair as they writhed and canoodled, it looked like the male was the more interested party, with the female playing hard to get but not entirely dis-interested. Harbor seals would not generally be mating this time of year,as the females have not have not yet borne the young of the season; but younger females do receive attention from the male seals in the spring. Good observations of courtship behavior by large mammals in the wild are not common, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to check out Romeo and Juliet seal today.

4/18/11 - 115 seals hauled-out; 64 degrees, wind SW 10-15, clear to cloudy. 12:15
5 seals on far rock and 5 seals at Greene Point for 125 seals total. Very interesting seal watching in the morning as the herd hauled out, there was a good deal of territorial squabbling and splashy frolicking until the seals settled down about 11:15. At 12:20 about 60 seals spooked from the center of the group, but most of these seals returned to the low rocks in back of the left tall rocks. The afternoon seal watch continued to entertain the many Patriots Day visitors, with over 100 seals presenting themselves on the rocks for everyone to see. High clouds served to make the lighting conditions for telescope observation much better than yesterday as the afternoon progressed, making today one of the best seal watching days of the season.

4/17/11 - 80 seals hauled-out; 62 degrees, wind SW 10-15, clear. 12:30
Good seal watching all day for the many nice families who made the trek out to Rome Point under warm sunny skies. Strong SW winds were most welcome today to keep watercraft away while accommodating comfortable seal viewing. Mostly adult seals were on the rocks, lately there have not been many juvenile seals hauled out, especially on the taller rocks to the left; I am wondering if the younger seals have been displaced by transient adults for the time being. This was a fun day socializing with the many first time seal watchers who visited Rome Point, but the seals were well settled and the light was not great for the scope so the seal observation was not especially interesting. However, we did get a good look at a lot of seals and I really enjoyed all of the friendly company who paid a visit to Rome Point on this fine spring day.

4/15/11 - 80 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind NE 10-15, clear. 10:45
5 seals on far rock for 85 seals total. The northeast wind off the water was too chilly for even the most dedicated seal observer this morning and I was chased off the beach by the cold wind in my face after a very brief and uncomfortable seal watch. The only reason I stayed as long as I did was that the seals were interesting and there was a big Grey seal present on the left end of the flat rock that I wanted to photograph. The oyster aquaculture boat was sorting and cleaning his trays between the point and the seal rocks; I believe the boat moved there so the rocks would provide some shelter from the choppy waves. The oyster boat did not bother the seals at all and they rested calmly, but there was some territorial squabbling and additional seals continued to haul out for the half hour  that I was there. I hated to leave, as the seal observation was very good, but that cold wind quickly got the best of me and I had no choice but to depart and leave seal watching for a more comfortable day.

4/10/11 - 55 seals hauled-out; 58 degrees, wind S10, partly cloudy. 17:30
Our seal walk today was the grand finale of a wonderful day of nature observation that left us feeling blessed and invigorated by the fine spring weather and many wild creatures we were privileged to see. Our day started off watching the bluebirds that we have finally succeeded in attracting to our yard; our bluebirds are competing with chickadees for nesting privileges in the new nest box. While we fear that the bluebirds may not win the battle for nesting rights, our entire family is greatly enjoying the ongoing nature drama taking place in our backyard and today I had the scope set up for video when the show commenced. Bluebirds are a family good luck charm for us, and I was grateful to get excellent bluebird video and images like the photo below. Now whenever we need a little good luck we can play our bluebird video and hope good fortune comes our way.

With our day off to such a grand start, we made quick work of our chores and headed out on a bird watching expedition to one of our favorite spring spots. In short order we saw a peregrine falcon, a kestrel, a sharp-shinned hawk and a red-tailed hawk; the feisty kestrel was having some sport diving on tree swallows. When we reached our destination, we could not have been more pleased to see that the great horned owl we were looking for had nested and bred successfully with a full house of 3 young owlets now present. We do not linger in the presence of uncommon nesting birds, but we stayed long enough to capture the photo of mama owl and her babies shown below.

We next proceeded to Rome Point for some evening seal watching and found that the steady south wind had served well to keep watercraft away. Frolicking seals were observed as yesterday, and before the sun hid behind the clouds the light for the scope and photography was very good. The seals pictured below are adult seals that have lately been seen draped over the tall rocks which were the domain of juvenile seals in past years. While the number of seals present was not especially great and behavior of the hauled-out seals was mostly subdued, our seal walk was the perfect conclusion to a day of fascinating nature observation that we will not soon forget.


4/8/11 - 72 seals hauled-out; 54 degrees, wind S10, cloudy. 16:30
We had Rome Point to ourselves on this cloudy Friday evening and we enjoyed being entertained by frolicking seals under very good lighting conditions. There were at least 3 different pairs of seals splashing and cavorting in the water showing playful courtship behavior. In the spring, immature seals can often be seen in groups of 2 or 3 engaging in seal games; the white splashes give away their position and close observation almost always reveals that there is more than one seal making the commotion. We got a better look at that injured seal we saw yesterday with the "necklace" scar;  that is a nasty deep cut that is really raw, this injury is sure to be a test for the young seal's recuperative powers.

4/7/11 - 142 seals hauled-out; 54 degrees, wind S10-15, clear. 15:00
6 Seals on far rocks for 148 seals total.  Seals were well settled by the time I arrived, but this was a very good seal watch despite the seal's mellow mood. The tide was a neap tide so not many rocks were exposed, so there was at least one seal on every rock. One juvenile seal on the tall rocks had a fresh ring scar all the way around its neck, which is indicative of a recent nasty net entanglement encounter. We see this only occasionally, which is surprising as seals and commercial fishing trawlers compete for the same fishes in the same waters. The seal's finely honed animal senses and exceptional underwater agility provide them with some protection, but this young seal apparently zigged when it should have zagged; nonetheless, it did manage to free itself, but whether it will survive the injury we will probably never know.

3/27/11 - 160 seals hauled-out; 40 degrees, wind W5-10, clear. 10:00
7 seals on far rocks for 167 seals total.  Outstanding seal watching this morning with many seal actively jumping and frolicking about for the first hour we were there.  Plenty of interesting behavior too and quite a few friendly seal observers out for a Sunday morning seal walk.  I am traveling today and do not have time to post more, but I'll probably update this entry later this week.

3/25/11
- 80 seals hauled-out; 40 degrees, wind SW10-15, cloudy. 15:45
Very good seal watching again today in the late afternoon into evening, with several seals providing entertaining aerial porpoising acrobatics.  I was shooting a short video of Linebelly when a seal leaped out of the water right into the video; I did not discover this until I reviewed the video later, a neat surprise.  The seals were posing well in fine lighting conditions and for the first hour and a half, I had Rome Point all to myself.

Around 5:00 pm I was joined at Rome Point by an especially enthusiastic group of seal seekers, they really enjoyed observing the seals through the scope and taking some photos with cell phone cameras.  We got to see some jumping seals as well as all of the seals perched upon the haul out rocks.  When I inquired how they heard about seals at Rome Point the nice lady leading the group said that someone sent her a link to a website....that would be this site, no doubt.  I could not have been more pleased, as that is exactly the intent of Romepointseals.org: to help people locate the seals and pick a good time to come and see the seal show.  It was nice to have such polite and interested young people come out to see the seals, especially on a Friday evening with no other people around so they could enjoy viewing the seals through the telescope without feeling rushed to share the scope with other folks.  We are so happy that people are finding this web site and using it as we hoped they would and I was almost as happy to have the company of my seal watching companions today as they were to enjoy such an excellent nature experience.

3/22/11 - 95 seals hauled-out; 40 degrees, wind NW10-15, cloudy. 14:45
Good seal watching under excellent lighting conditions made me late for an appointment today. I watched 45 seals arrive at the rocks over the course of an hour during my brief seal watch, and at least 4 different seals exhibited some porpoising behavior, jumping out of the water exuberantly. One of the seals jumped almost completely out of the water four consecutive times, then continued to splash about on the surface for half a dozen additional half-hearted leaps. Linebelly showed up right before I left and climbed up on the pointy rock, which is always an amusing sight to see. I was really reluctant to leave, as the seal watching was getting better and more seals were continuing to arrive; I am sure there were over 100 seals hauled out today at low tide.

A fishing acquaintance gave me a copy of an article that appeared in the March 21 edition of The New Yorker magazine discussing the reappearance of seals in the waters around New York City. The six page feature described a seal watch cruise around the harbor and how people are enthralled by the presence of these animals in an urban area. The article was well-written and entertaining, but I could not help thinking how fortunate we are to have the amazing seals at Rome Point to observe; almost every day during the seal season the Rome Point seals provide an extraordinary nature observation opportunity that is, in my opinion, much under-appreciated by the general public and the local powers that be. They may be seeing some seals around New York City these days, but from what I just read those seal sightings pale in comparison to the seal show that we regularly see at Rhode Island's John H. Chafee Nature Preserve at Rome Point.

3/20/11 - 53 seals hauled-out; 50 degrees, wind calm to S 10, clear. 14:00
14 seals on far rocks for 67 seals total. Because of the calm bay conditions I walked down to the end of the road to check for seals before I walked all the way to the point. I was surprised to see there were seals on the south rocks, as there was a boat in the area. With plenty of seals to see and lots of seal watchers out and about I headed for the point and shared a 3 hour seal watch with some very nice families and old seal watching friends. The big seals on the flat rock were showing well, as were seals on the mounds and on various rocks that are only available to the seals on the lowest of spring tides. There were no seals on any of the tall rocks, indicating that the seals had been spooked at least once before my late arrival today.

The boat had one person on board who was photographing the seals and after awhile he moved too close to the far rocks, spooking those seals. Gradually, the bass boat with MA registration edged closed to the main haul out rocks under electric motor power, finally, he got too close and scared about half of the seals away. Fortunately, when the seals spooked the boat backed off, leaving us with around 25 seals to observe for the remainder of the afternoon. The seal watching highlight of the day was when a single seal had to fend off a rival who was determined to take his rock. After a frontal assault was repelled, the marauding seal circled the rock and tried to outflank the seal on the rock; this caused the defending seal to turn around on the small rock at least 3 full revolutions in the course of 30 seconds to ward off the intruder. The seal in the water was able to move faster in a circle that the seal on the rock, so three times the swimming seal tried to bite the seal on the rock's tail, once lunging halfway out of the water to attempt a hard bite. On each tail bite try, the seal on the rock managed to foil his nemesis by spinning and lifting his tail high above the water; finally, the seal in the water gave up and left to find a rock that was less ably defended.

After the wind came up I moved into the woods for shelter and was joined there by a steady stream of seal watchers until 17:00. One couple who stopped by to take a look remembered me from a seal watch long ago when the rocks were shrouded by fog early in the morning. On that memorable March day in 2002, we patiently waited on the Rome Point shore for the fog to burn off, while listening to the growls and grunts of numerous invisible seals. We were rewarded for our patience with an epic seal watch featuring 172 seals on the rocks that I remember to this day; in fact, the reference to seal watching on a foggy day on the When are Seals at Rome Point? page was inspired by my memory of that unforgettable experience. To meet up again with that same couple years later and recount our memories of that day was a touching reminder of how quickly time goes by and made me wonder how many of the seals I have been watching for the past week were also present at Rome Point on that foggy day 9 years ago.

3/19/11 - 110 seals hauled-out; 50 degrees, wind calm to NW 15, clear. 11:45
3 seals on far rock for 113 seals total.  We had limited time to spend at Rome Point today, as we had to accommodate the attention span of our 4 year old seal watching companion. The stiff NW wind served to keep boats at the dock and seals were still arriving as we departed from the point; I am sure the seal count was higher in the early afternoon if a stray boat did not show up after we left. There were 5 juvenile seals on the white rock which happens on spring tides and all of the other taller rocks had seals perched atop them. Our walk featured a closeup swoop by a big retail hawk and the cacophonous croaking of wood frogs in the vernal pools. I'll bet all of the people who were arriving as we were leaving had a nice walk with tremendous seal viewing for those who were carrying good sport optics; we regretted not being able to hang around longer today, but were grateful for the opportunity to share such wonderful seal watching with our grand daughter.

3/17/11 - 166 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind calm to S 10, clear. 10:45
12 seals on far rocks and 1 at Greene Point for 179 seals total. Spectacular is the one word that best describes the seal watching today. When there are this many seal hauled out, all of the seal behaviors are on display; so much so that it's hard to decide where to point the spotting scope sometimes. When I first arrived there were about 150 seals on the rocks, they were fairly well settled for so many large animals in one place, but I expected that would change soon enough. At 10:30, a pair of mute swans swam directly in on the low rocks at the base of the "twins"; when juvenile seals are confronted with the sight of big swans swimming right at them at eye level, they will sometimes spook, and this happened today. When there are a lot of seals around, the splashes of the fleeing young seals will often scare some of the nearby bigger seals as well. In this case, about 50 seals were scared off the rocks and thus commenced about an hour of some of the finest nature observation I have ever been privileged to observe. The seals that were now swimming quickly determined that the swans were no threat and decided to return to the rocks....but not the same rocks they just left. No, they had to have new rocks, which were already well populated with seals who never spooked in the first place. The swans were the spark that started the epic seal war today and soon, the grunts and growls of fighting seals were heard bellowing across the calm waters of the Narragansett bay.

Fights were breaking out so fast, it looked like the seals had their Irish up in best St. Patrick's Day form. Most of the brawling was among the displaced seals as they competed for the best uninhabited shallowly submerged rocks, although some of the seals that were high and dry were compelled to fend off new rivals or surrender their spot. After about 20 minutes the action settled down, but 10 minutes later, the pair of swans swam around the front of the white rock with their necks underwater while scrounging for food. The sight of the headless swans was just too terrifying for another group of about 50 seals who splashily took to the water; predictably, the fighting and caterwauling resumed as this second group of seals decided to haul out again. This triggered another round of territory battles every bit as loud and vicious as the preceding bouts. At 10:40 the seals finally settled down and I got a good count of the participants in today's St. Patrick's Day seal riot.

The show was far from over, while the fighting was going on there were other seals breaching and porpoising and this continued as additional seals made their way to the rocks. Next, a single kayak showed up at 11:00 and stealthily approached the rocks; the pair of paddlers on board were obviously trying not to scare the seals, but as usual, the siren song of the beautiful seals eventually lured them too close for the seal's comfort. At about 250 yards the first group of seals spooked, as the kayak turned to depart they were not as sneaky and a second group of seals hit the water. I watched a lot of these seals leave the area and my recount after the kayak disturbance was 85 seals remaining. Some of the seals that left moved to other rocks within visible range; I counted 24 seals on other rocks far from the Seven Sisters at 12:00. Within 5 minutes after the noon count, the wind kicked up out of the south, which put an end to the best of the seal observation for this day.  Nonetheless, about 80 seals remained through 13:30 when I finally left and some late arriving seal watchers got good looks at the remaining seals in the improving early afternoon light.

3/13/11 - 20 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind NW 10-15, clear. 16:30
Another late day seal watch with a high tide, but I decided to walk down to the beach to see if there were seals on the tall rocks and I was not disappointed. There were about 15 seal hauled out a full 5 1/2 hours before low tide so I walked up the beach to to the point to share the spotting scope with other seal watchers. One family joined me there and spent over an hour exploring the beach, while a steady stream of seal watchers came and went. A juvenile seal approached us and checked us out for a minute or two at a distance of less than 100 feet; we must not have impressed the little seal, as it did not linger very long. Not an especially interesting seal watch today, but the first-time seal watchers all enjoyed themselves and were pleased to get good views of seals through the scope.

3/12/11 - 35 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind SW 10, clear. 16:30
Low tide was at sunset, so a late afternoon seal watch was the order of the day. While the seal numbers were lower due than usual to the tide timing plus an astronomical high tide, our merry band was treated to an entertaining and comfortable seal watch. Spirits were high as we were joined on our walk by the intrepid Girl Scout Troop 136, and a good time was had by all as we explored the Rome Point Shore. The enthusiastic and adventurous scouts made a good audience for the seals and some of the seals were showing off with porpoising behavior; definitely the most jumping seals we have seen so far this season. The seals become more active as the water warms up and the spring sunshine seems to invigorate the seals, much as the sunshine does for winter-weary seal watchers. 

3/8/11 - 115 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind calm to SE 10, clear. 14:00
8 seals on far rock and 2 at Greene Point for 125 seals total. Seal watching does not get much better than it was today; far and away the best day so far this season. Light wind, warm sun, and low tide combined to attract lots of seals to the rocks and excellent optical conditions allowed great close-up views of the seals all afternoon. The seal's grunts and growls resounded across the bay whenever territory skirmishes broke out, which was fairly often right up to low tide at 15:00. The sound effects always add to the ambiance of the seal watching experience when the wind cooperates in such a fashion that the seal's voices can be heard.

The trouble making seal that has recently been disrupting the peace and tranquility on the flat rock showed up late again today, causing a big noisy seal battle that was very interesting to observe. All the other usual suspects were on display including Linebelly, who has not been seen for awhile. At 1520 the breeze picked up and abruptly shifted to the southeast; this triggered the departure of about 25 seals from the tall rocks on the left. The south wind pushed the rising tide in quickly and the seals steadily headed out; about 60 seals remained when I left at 1600. 

3/7/11 - 75 seals hauled-out; 36 degrees, wind  NW 10-20, gusts to 30 then lower after front passed, cloudy, then clear. 14:45
Excellent seal watching today with good optical conditions and lots of seals to observe. The seals were fussy for a while as the wind was shifting and the whitecaps were building, but the wind laid down a bit after the front passed through and the seals settled into heavy rest mode. They must have been especially tired, as a stiff northwest breeze often serves to keep them somewhat unsettled for the entire rest period; today they napped soundly from 14:00 on.

One particular seal has been up to a lot of trouble making on the flat rock recently. This rude dude has been showing up late in the ebb tide and pushing his way onto the rock without any regard for the seals already resting there. He shows up ready to rumble, comes on strong and fast, and does not hesitate to administer vicious bites to any seal who dares to challenge him. The photos below show one hapless victim who was driven from the flat rock today; the seal that is being attacked has its back to the camera and is too close for comfort to the edge of the rock.

The innocent victim fought gamely, but its position on the edge of the rock proved to be too disadvantageous. In the photo below the aggressor delivers the coup de grace, driving the unlucky seal from the rock with a final bite on the nose.


3/5/11 - 52 seals hauled-out; 48 degrees, wind S 10-20, cloudy, then clearing. 13:45
A very good seal watch in spite of a brisk south wind. I set up our scope at an unusual spot to stay out of the wind, as our normal sheltered location still has very slippery wet ice afoot. About 30 seals were already high and dry when we arrived, then we watched seals haul out on the rocks to the south of the center cluster. Lots of seal-seeking families were around today and especially a large number of small children who were excited and grateful to get a good look at all the seals through the spotting scope. Seal behavior was about average for this number of seals with some territorial squabbling observed on the flat rock, and one brief porpoising display over by the white rock. Today was the best seal watch so far in 2011, and it should only get better over the next month or so.

3/2/11 - 33 seals hauled-out; 48 degrees, wind S-SW 10-15 gusts 30, clear. 11:45
Rough seas for seals today as a stiff wind was bucking the outgoing tide all morning. This made for some interesting seal observation as the dominant seals that haul out on the flat rock had to deal with occasional waves that splashed up over the exposed rock. Several seals tried repeatedly to take their customary positions on this much favored rock, but the splashing was too much for them so they ultimately beat a retreat to the more sheltered center cluster rocks. About 15 seals were perched high and dry on the tall rocks to the far left, and no seals were on any of the rocks south of the cluster. After the tide switched to incoming at noon, the character of the bay changed with occasional sets of big tailwind rollers replacing the splashy wind-against-tide whitecaps. All the seals that were not on the tallest rocks were washed from their perches by the breaking waves, leaving only about 20 seals remaining when I left at 1300.

The bay conditions today were a good example of how seal behavior and the number of seals are dictated by wind velocity and direction. The wind today was forecast to be from the southwest; a true southwest wind does not have sufficient fetch to build up a lot of wave action on the haul-out rocks because the western shoreline of the bay serves to shelter the rocks. The wind was actually coming almost directly out of the south with at most a 15 degree western deviation; this caused the whitecaps and waves to build to a significant height. If the wind had been an additional 30 degrees to the west, the wave action on the rocks would have been greatly reduced and the seals would have been a lot happier and probably greater in number.  

These seals are getting hammered by waves, but they hung in there for almost 20 minutes before they bailed off of this rock; harbor seals usually will not tolerate crashing waves for such a long time.


2/24/11 - 34 seals hauled-out; 38 degrees, wind S-SW 10 cloudy. 16:30
seals on far rock for 25 seals total.  An interesting seal watch today, with low tide around 6 pm the seals were arriving in small groups throughout the afternoon. When I arrived at 13:30, there were about 10 seals on the tops of the tall rocks, as these were the only rocks available 4 1/2 hours before low tide. As the tide, which was pretty high today, slowly receded, more seals showed up and took their places. Some seals were not happy with the splashy conditions and moved on and off rocks several times before they settled down. There was some porpoising behavior and just a little territorial behavior to be seen, but with low tide so late in the day the best seal watching was probably during the twilight hour. Too raw and chilly for me to stay later, 3 hours was enough.

2/20/11 - 17 seals hauled-out; 38 degrees, wind NW 15 decreasing to 10 clear. 15:15
3 seals on far rock for 25 seals total.  Another day with a surprisingly low seal count, but there was some interesting behavior and plenty of seal watchers around. The trail was once again somewhat slippery and when we got to the beach there were only 2 seals hauled out. We almost headed for home, but the sun was warm so we proceeded up the beach and as we arrived at the point seals started hauling out on the south end of the rocks. We observed some porpoising and one small seal that was determined to defend it's rock against three different larger rivals; surprisingly the little seal managed to keep the favored rock despite the intentions of the bigger seals. The light was good for the scope and we enjoyed the company of several seal watching families; all in all, a fine seal watch even though there was not an especially large number of seals around today.

2/18/11 - 22 seals hauled-out; 54 degrees, wind S 5-15 clear. 15:10
3 seals on far rock for 25 seals total.  There were many more seals present earlier in the tide, but other obligations left us only enough time for a short seal watch 1/12 hours after low tide. I observed a least 50 seals hauled out from far down the beach, but by the time we got to the point the seals were departing for their feeding cycle. We watched as most of the remaining seals left the rocks; the tide was especially low today, but when the south wind picked up the seals took off, as is typical for a flood tide with a south wind.

2/17/11 - 8 seals hauled-out; 48 degrees, wind SW 10 clear. 12:30
3 seals at Greene Point for 11 seals total.  I arrived right at low tide and I was surprised by the low number of seals that were hauled out. Perhaps the herd was spooked before I got there or maybe the combination of an astronomical low tide and the SW wind affected the seals in some way; I guess I'll never know. One thing I do know is that the trail in not in very good shape, especially the last quarter mile through the woods which had some really slippery wet ice. Easiest walking is on the beach, the trail will be either slippery or muddy for some time to come.

2/6/11 - 51 seals hauled-out; 38 degrees, wind NW 10 clear. 15:30
2 seals on far rock for 53 seals total. We arrived late in a low, new moon tide, so we did not get to witness much interesting seal behavior. There were a couple of seals with fresh injuries; one seal had a bad cut on the lower side of it's neck, another had an injured right eye.

2/4/11
- 54 seals hauled-out; 28 degrees, wind SW 10-15 partly cloudy. 13:45
5 seals on far rock for 59 seals total. Trail conditions were pretty bad today, but the icy crust was thin enough to be crunchy which allowed for decent traction. When the trail is bad, few visitors make it all the way to the point, so I had Rome Point to myself for over two hours. Because no one else was around, I was treated to the rare sight of a young seal hauled out on a rock within 40 feet of the shore; I have only seen seals on these near-shore rocks maybe six times in over four hundred seal walks. When there are people and dogs out and about, no seals will tolerate their presence sufficiently to haul out close to shore, but on a day like today you can get lucky, so I was looking for seals in close as I carefully approached the beach. I was rewarded with a close-up photo opportunity which allowed me to take the best photos and video of an individual seal that I have ever shot. The photo below is perhaps a juvenile harp seal, but I am not sure, so it could be a harbor seal just as easily; someday, I must learn how to better distinguish between juvenile harp and harbor seals.

At 1240, the same kayaks that were in the area on 1/22 were observed off the SE point of Fox Island by myself and some of the seals, about 15 seals spooked but they quickly hauled out again as the kayaks stayed far away. At 1345, the kayakers crossed the channel between Fox Island and the haul-out rocks and moved south between the haul-out rocks and the Rome Point Shore; this spooked 50 seals which all left the area. After the kayaks passed, 3 juvenile seals remained on the tall rocks, as well as my little friend on the nearby rock. These folks in the kayaks are sporting some pretty fancy photography gear, but I'll bet they don't get seal photos like the images and video that I capture with my Sony Webbie and scope; today they scared away their subjects, which is bad form for wildlife photographers.

1/22/11 - 22 seals hauled-out; 24 degrees, wind SE 5 partly cloudy. 13:45
4 seals on far rock for 26 seals total. We paused to talk with some visitors as we walked up the beach and when I looked at the rocks I saw lots of seals swimming and only a few seals remaining on the rocks. There were a pair of kayaks several hundred yards from the seals out in the channel; these kayaks apparently disturbed the seals even though they did not approach the rocks. After the kayaks passed, some seals started returning to the rocks, but their rest was short lived. After the kayaks rounded Fox island, they reversed course and came back down the bay, spooking all but 5 seals on their second pass. These kayakers had no intentions of scaring the seals and kept their distance, but seals are especially wary of kayaks and are sometimes spooked by kayaks as far as 1/2 mile away. This was the first time in a while that we have observed the seals being spooked from their haul out spot; that comes with the territory but we were surprised to see anyone out on the bay on this frigid day.

1/20/11 - 68 seals hauled-out; 36 degrees, wind NW 5-10 partly cloudy. 14:30
5 seals on far rock and 5 at Greene Point for 78 seals total.  The full moon brings an astronomical low tide and today, the most seals so far this season. A very good day for seal watching with reasonable temperatures, agreeable wind conditions, and good light for zooming in with the sport optics. The only negative was the rough trail which was icy and uneven; not especially slippery, but unpleasant to walk on nonetheless. The trail conditions probably explain why I had so little company today, only 4 other people made it all the way to the point in the 4 hours I was there. The seals were out early in the ebb tide with 58 seals hauled out and already dry two full hours before low tide. I did get to witness some territorial behavior and a couple of seals porpoised briefly, but I arrived too late to see them while they were active at the start of the rest cycle. Mostly the seals just rested peacefully on this exceedingly peaceful and pleasant mid-winter day.

1/17/11 - 42 seals hauled-out; 22 degrees, wind N 5-10 clear. 13:00
5 seals on far rock for 47 seals total. Good seal watching today for those with enough fortitude to brave the coldest day so far this season. The breeze from the north was inescapable and was just strong enough to chill the toes and noses of the many seal watchers who ventured out to Rome Point on this Martin Luther King holiday.  Seals were evenly distributed among the rocks with a dozen immature seals to the left, a mixed bag of adult and juvenile seals in the center cluster, and the large dominant seals on the right. Linebelly was on the pointy rock and I recognized several other seals as well. Not the best light for the scope and a steady chilly breeze made this seal watch not especially wonderful, but the good company of friendly seal seekers kept me on the beach for almost 4 hours until the cold finally got the best of me.

1/15/11 - 20 seals hauled-out; 28 degrees, wind calm to W 5, clear. 10:30
5 seals on far rock for 25 seals total. There were about 10 seals on the flat rock that were high and dry, but all of the other seals were wet when I arrived, indicating that they had gone for a swim.  When the majority of the hauled out seals are still wet at low tide, that is a good indication that the seals were spooked earlier and have just returned to haul out again after being disturbed.  There were very few seals swimming around; swimming seals would have been easily visible in the calm bay conditions. We had hoped to see the most seals so far this season today, but that was not to be; however, we have high hopes to see larger numbers of seals later this week during the good mid-day seal observation tides.

1/8/11 - 36 seals hauled-out; 34 degrees, wind N 10, clear. 15:30
2 on far rock for 38 seals total.  Good seal observation all afternoon, even though the north wind and high astronomical tide combined to keep the number of seals hauled out below average. There was a continuous stream of first-time seal watchers coming and going, which made this seal watch well worth the time invested, despite the fact that the seals were not very active. The highlight of the day was the apparent recent arrival of a number of juvenile seals; there were at least a dozen youngsters hauled out on the tall rocks, including a group of three on the rarely used white rock. This is by far the most immature seals we have seen this season and we were pleased to see them arrive right on cue during the first week of January. Another fairly predictable seal is the intrepid Linebelly, who often shows up late in the ebb tide to take his regular position on the pointy rock. Today, Linebelly showed up within one minute of me telling some visitors about how he prefers that uncomfortable looking rock, which I believe left those visitors with the impression that Linebelly and I are working in cahoots ....or even more unlikely, that I actually have some idea what is going on with the seals that haul out at Rome Point. Sometimes, even a blind seal catches a fish I guess.

One group of Rome point regulars who tend their bay harvest well are the aquaculture operators who are doing oyster farming in the bay to the south of the haul-out rocks. One of the visitors today was a young woman who works on an aquaculture boat; she updated me on some bay news, including the fact that a 50 acre mussel farm proposed for the area seems to be dead in the water for the time being. We are big proponents of responsible aquaculture and we really appreciate that the boats that ply their oyster farming trade in the Rome Point area go out of their way to leave the seals undisturbed. They are good neighbors and good stewards of the bay and their dedication to their work is commendable; these aquaculture operators can count on our support, but we will stand in opposition to any proposed expanded commercial activity that would have a detrimental impact on the marine mammal winter habitat at Rome Point.

1/5/11 - 48 seals hauled-out; 34 degrees, wind W 10, clear. 15:00
3 seals on far rock for 51 seals total. More good seal watching today made this brief seal walk worthwhile. A group of young folks from the Met School made the trek out to the point and got a good look at the seals, as did some other especially appreciative visitors. I did not have a lot of time for seal watching today, but the weather is forecast to be less than stellar for the next several days, so I was glad to have a chance to get out to see the seals before the weather and tide timing conspire to spoil the recent stretch of excellent seal observation.

1/4/11 - 61 seals hauled-out; 34 degrees, wind SW 10, clear. 14:30
4 seals on far rock for 65 seals total. A fine seal watch today with good light for the optics gear and cooperative seals posing in positions where they could be closely observed. Some interesting behavior was noted including a persistent but unsuccessful territory challenge and a repeatedly failed attempt by one seal to climb a rock that was much too steep and slippery. Some old seal watching acquaintances were around today too, which always makes time spent at Rome Point even more entertaining.

1/2/11 - 59 seals hauled-out; 52 degrees, wind calm, foggy to cloudy. 13:30
5 seals on far rock for 64 seals total. When we arrived shortly after noon, the haul-out rocks were shrouded in thick fog. As the fog lifted, the sun peaked through the clouds and a rainbow formed; the right end of the rainbow appeared to rest upon the seal rocks. For the next 1 1/2 hour the fog moved in and out in varying thickness, alternately revealing then obscuring the seals. Finally at 13:30 the fog lifted and we were able to get a good look at the seals. Still very few juvenile seals, mostly the regular adults which we were able to observe closely in good light after the fog departed.

12/31/10
- 48 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind SW 5-10, clear. 12:00
4 seals on far rock and 1 at Greene Point for 53 seals total. The seal watching today was almost identical to yesterday with calm waters and plenty of settled, happy seals for all the visitors to observe. There was slightly more activity today, with one seal porpoising for 4 consecutive jumps and one good fight for a rock that took about seven minutes to resolve. Once again, the seals stayed much later into the incoming tide than usual, allowing the afternoon seal watching families a fine opportunity to see the big adult seals in all their glory. With so many nice folks out to see seals on this fine day, I stayed until the last seals were gently displaced from their resting rocks by the rising tide; there were still 8 seals hauled out 4 1/2 hours after low tide and every seal stayed until the water got too deep for them to maintain their position.

On calm sunny days like today, many seals will remain on fully submerged rocks as long as possible. To best accomplish this, the seals curl their heads and tails out of the water, striking a pose which resembles a banana. When seals "banana" they will often keep one front flipper out of the water and use this flipper to counterbalance the wave action, as the seal in the photo below is doing.

These big seals on the flat rock took advantage of the calm bay conditions to hang out well after their rock was completely underwater. It looks like these seals are floating, but they are resting on a rock that 4 hours earlier was 2 feet out of the water.


12/30/10
- 48 seals hauled-out; 38 degrees, wind calm to SW 10, clear. 10:45
5 seals on far rock plus 2 at Greene Point for 55 seals total. No seals on the tall rocks today, but plenty of fat adult seals to show to the many nice folks out for a seal walk today. Fortunately, calm conditions on the bay extended the seal's rest cycle past 4 hours after low tide, so families arriving in the afternoon got to see some seals.  This does not happen often, as calm waters are a relatively rare occurrence in the winter; the wind is more settled in the early spring, but by then on the nice days there are often boats or kayaks around to scare the seals away long before 4 hours after low tide. It was great to finally have such a good seal watch during the Christmas vacation week, as the tides and wind were not nearly as favorable earlier this week.

Many familiar seals were in their usual spots, but Linebelly was elsewhere and a different seal took his place atop the pointy rock. Seals that are tempted to take Linebelly's favorite rock are regularly chased from their perch when Linebelly turns up, but this did not happen today. The new seal on the pointy rock has a distinctive big spot on it's chest and will be easily identifiable in the future. This seal apparently found the pointy rock to be a comfortable resting spot as it spent several hours there; it will be interesting to see if Linebelly will have to confront this new rival for his territory sometime later this season.

12/24/10 - 71 seals hauled-out; 36 degrees, wind N 10 decreasing to 5, clear. 15:005 seals on far rock for 76 seals total.  A well-timed dropping tide combined with diminishing wind made for a great seal watch today.  Arriving at 12:30 put us right on time to watch most of the seals haul out and a lot of seals around caused the activity level to pick up a bit. We observed very interesting territorial behavior, especially from a couple of smaller seals that decided to try to haul out on the left side of the flat rock...a decision that was unlikely to end well for the small seals, as this rock is the domain of the dominant adult male seals. Sometimes a smaller seal can sneak in on this rock for awhile, but very rarely does a small seal manage to hold its position once the large seals show up. When the waves are choppy out of the north like today, the big seals do not care to be splashed on the north side of the flat rock and will often leave this part of the rock unoccupied until the water level drops and the splashing ceases. Sometimes small seals will take advantage of this and try to move in on the big seals turf, with predictable results.

Twice within a half hour, bigger seals attacked two different, smaller interlopers; in both cases the small seals were able to use the high ground to their advantage for holding off the aggressors, but only for a short time. The back of the left side of that rock is slippery, allowing smaller seals that are brave to put up a fight and hold out for a few minutes, but once the bigger adversaries become determined enough, the outcome is a foregone conclusion. This kind of behavior never fails to entertain onlookers and we don't get to see this everyday, but we have become more astute at picking up on cues that indicate the seals are about to do something interesting. Small seals lying on the big seal's rock is one of the most reliable signs that a seal fight is going to commence soon and we watch more closely when we observe clues that a seal show is about to begin.

In this photo, the smaller seal on the left side of rock manages to fend off a partially submerged, bigger rival...temporarily.

In the end the big seals usually get mad and attack with more ferocity after a smaller seal gives them the business. The seal on the far left below has had enough of the whippersnapper and is mounting the final assault; within 5 seconds after this image was captured, the small seal was dispatched from the rock and did not return.

This kind of seal behavior is fascinating to observe, but it can happen fast, so it helps to try to pick up on hints that something worth watching is about to take place. Anytime the seals are actively hauling out is a good time to pay attention; another easy clue is that if you hear growls and grunts, use binoculars to try to determine which seals might be upset for some reason. We often scan using binoculars to try to anticipate when the seals are going to put on a show, then zoom in with our spotting scope after we have located potentially interesting behavior.

12/22/10 - 35 seals hauled-out; 36 degrees, wind NW 5 increasing to 15, partly cloudy. 13:50
3 Seals on far rock for 38 seals total. 12 seals were hauled out on the tall rocks 2 1/2 hours before low tide including an adult seal on the white rock; we have never seen an adult seal on this rock before. More seals arrived and hauled out on the cluster and the flat rock, with a brief flurry of porpoising activity coinciding with the arrival of the second seal wave. One of the last seals to arrive was Linebelly, who climbed up on the pointy rock even though there were lots of other rocks available to choose from.

One large seal had a pronounced "necklace" scar around it's neck; this is a result of a net entanglement. It appears that the netting has rotted off the seal pictured below, leaving a permanent scar that will make this seal easy to identify forever. The seal looks fat and healthy; this animal is fortunate that it survived a net entanglement none the worse for the wear, not all marine mammals are so fortunate.


12/19/10
- 27 seals hauled-out; 36 degrees, wind N 5 increasing to 10, cloudy. 12:30
A chilly seal watch today, with the north wind blowing into the woods off of the water and no sun to contribute solar warmth. The seal numbers were down today, as is often the case when the wind blows from the north. However, the seals that were present showed themselves well, especially one white seal with black spots. The light was good for the scope and there were a steady stream of friendly seal watchers coming and going, which made for a fun couple of hours in spite of the cold, damp breeze. A couple of yearling seals were hauled out on the tall rocks, providing the best views of juvenile seals so far this season.

The spotted seal looks as though it belongs on the fire department boat, like a dalmatian fire truck mascot dog.


12/18/10 - 28 seals hauled-out; 36 degrees, wind SE calm increasing to 5, clear to partly cloudy. 12:15
5 seals on far rock for 33 seals total. Not a large number of seals, but the big seals on the flat rock gave everyone a good look. We were unsure whether the seals were spooked before we arrived, as there seemed to be a number of seals swimming around that did not haul out when we first arrived. These first swimmers seemed to disperse quickly, then after an hour or so a few more seals gradually showed up, filling in the empty spaces on the flat rock. Thankfully, the seals on the flat rock posed obligingly today, allowing the seal watchers who were around to get a good view of some big seals.

The white seal on the right is unusual as it has almost no spots; the seal on the left is yawning as it settles down for a nap.

At about 12:30, the lobster fisherman who tends the blue buoys showed up to pull his pots, scaring all the seals away in the process. We were extremely pleased to see him remove his dirty, empty pots from the water and take them with him; this is good news for seals and seal watchers alike. Now the seals will be able to rest undisturbed with no lobster pots set close to the haul out rocks. We shot some video of the seals being chased away by this fisherman; hopefully he has caught on that lobster fishing in the immediate vicinity of numerous hungry harbor seals is not likely to yield a bountiful catch.

12/17/10 - 69 seals hauled-out; 36 degrees, wind W/NW 10 decreasing to 5, clear. 11:00
4 seals on far rock for 73 seals total. Some seals were active before low tide, with 3 different seals porpoising, however, they were quick to settle down. I observed one seal that was entangled in a lobster pot buoy rope for about 10 minutes around 11:30; the buoy repeatedly submerged and was towed by the seal across the surface of the water. The seal surfaced a number of times adjacent to the blue float and eventually managed to free itself.  It is difficult to imagine how the seals manage to get themselves hung up in a single rope that connects the buoy to the pot, but this is the third time I have witnessed this occurance. I did get some video of the entanglement today; this was the longest time that I have seen a seal caught up in a buoy rope and I was afraid for awhile that this was not going to end well, so I was relieved when the seal broke free.

There was a fleet of quahoggers working in the back outside of Bissell Cove and the northwest wind carried their voices and some other sounds in the direction of the hauled-out seals.  At noon, about 50 of the seals spooked for no apparent reason; it was relatively noisy and I think the seals may have been startled by the quahog fishermen. The seals which were spooked left the area for about an hour, then as the rocks were almost covered by the incoming tide, 15 seals returned and hauled out on rocks that were all but underwater. This was unusual behavior; usually when the seals are spooked after low tide, they will leave and not return until the next rest cycle. The bay was pretty calm and the dominant seals that haul out on the flat rock were never spooked; perhaps this explains why some seals came back for additional rest even though the rocks were disappearing beneath the rising tide.

12/11/10 - 30 seals hauled-out; 38 degrees, wind SW 5, cloudy. 16:00
2 seals on far rock for 32 seals total. Kind of a strange seal watch with several unusual disruptions that kept the seal numbers lower than expected.  When I arrived at a vantage point down the beach around 14:20 I observed at least 20 seals spread out on the rocks. By the time I arrived at the point, there were a lot of seal heads bobbing in the water and most seals had left the rocks as a large barge from Quonset rounded Fox Island.  The barge was being pushed and towed by two big tugboats; all of the noise definitely spooked the seals, but a couple of mature seals were unfazed and remained on the flat rock. There was a group of cub scouts from Cranston at the point, so I quickly set up the scope and they all got a good look at the remaining few hauled-out seals. During this time, the barge moved away, but surprisingly, the seals seemed to leave the area as well.  Then for about an hour the seals slowly and nervously returned to the rocks, but they were spooky and would haul out briefly then return to the water.  One exception was the seals that hauled out on the flat rock, they stayed once they got on the rock, gradually increasing in number from two to ten. Around 15:30 the seals finally figured out that there was no threat and the seals stayed hauled out for the remaining daylight.

During the late afternoon, numerous volleys of shotgun fire were heard coming from Bissell Cove; waterfowl hunting is now in full swing until January 23. The shotgun reports always get the seals attention, causing them to pick up their heads and scan attentively, but they usually relax rather quickly after being startled by gunfire. However, when the seals are already nervous like today, I believe that gunfire may affect their behavior and keep some seals from hauling out. I watched the hunters for a few minutes on my walk back to the car, they had some decoys set and were using a dog to retrieve their game; as long as they are hunting in an ethical and responsible manner, I have absolutely no problem with hunters. I checked the regulations and waterfowl hunting in Bissell Cove is perfectly legal as far as I can tell.  I know many other users of Rome Point are disconcerted to hear gunshots close by and I would much prefer that hunters not set up on the point proper, but they are within their rights to do so and I respect their right to enjoy their sport of choice. I am always happy when waterfowl hunting season is over, but for now, as long as #4 shot is not raining down on my seal watch and hunting regulations are obeyed, I will respectfully share Rome Point with the sportsmen who occasionally hunt there.

12/4/10 - 55 seals hauled-out; 38 degrees, wind NW 10, clear. 12:45
2 seals on far rock for 57 seals total.  We were late to the seal watch today due to holiday chores, but we were pleased to find a large contingent of kayakers present on the shore when we finally arrived. This group was on a paddling tour organized by Eastern Mountain Sports and led by my long-time seal watching acquaintance Joe Sherlock.  It was our pleasure to let the group observe the seals through the scope and take some photographs; I'm always glad to see Joe out there educating fellow kayakers about marine mammals.  Thanks to the efforts of Joe and other knowledgeable kayakers, the word is getting out that Rome Point is a special place where the resting seals should not be approached by kayaks so they are left to rest undisturbed.  As an avid naturalist and kayaker myself, I am sometimes guilty of disturbing wildlife; some interactions are unavoidable when you spend as much time in the woods, on the river, or paddling in salt water as I do.  However, there is a noteworthy difference between spooking a couple of great blue herons (or a small group of seals) and scaring a big seal herd off the best haul-out habitat in the entire bay; it has been gratifying to see that the awareness of the kayaking community has been raised to a point where most kayakers at least make an effort not to scare the seals away.  Thanks again to Joe and everyone who plays on the bay in the winter for their consideration; anyone out kayaking around Rome Point is always welcome to beach and share my spotting scope for up-close views and photos of the seals that you will not get from a kayak.

12/3/10 - 50 seals hauled-out; 42 degrees, wind NW 10, cloudy. 12:00
4 seals on the far rock for 54 seals total. I prefer seal observation on cloudy days because the light is better for a clearer image in the telescope, so today was a good day to take a close-up look at the seals. Some days, like today, the seals lie about in positions that provide a better view for observing individual seals, which makes for a more interesting seal watch. One of the seals had an especially large and nasty wound on it's belly; this is the first injured seal I observed this season. Another first for this season was a large Grey seal that was bottling (floating with it's nose out of the water like a floating bottle) in the vicinity of the rocks. I have never seen a Grey seal here in December before; I was hoping the Grey seal would join it's harbor seal relatives on the rocks, but the big Grey did not haul out for my benefit.  The seals were less settled today than yesterday and once they started getting splashed on the rising tide they did not linger on the rocks.

12/2/10 - 68 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind NW 10, clear. 11:00
6 seals on the far rock for 74 seals total.  Seals were hauled out early on the outgoing tide and rested peacefully for almost the entire time I was there.  Around 12:00 some late arrivals showed up and caused some territorial squabbling on the center cluster, but for the most part the seal watch today was especially mellow with lots of real estate for the adult seals to share peacefully. Linebelly was a late arrival and was forced to scale the pointy rock from the front side because other seals were in the way, Linebelly showed a lot of determination as he clambered up the steep face to his precarious perch.

11/14/10 - 67 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind N 10, clear. 8:00
4 seals on the far rock for 71 seals total.  Seals were active most of the morning and never settled down, the fact that about 30 seals were spooked by a boat shortly after 8:00 did not help to calm their jumpy nerves.  About 6 of the seals that were spooked came back, leaving 25 seals fussing about on the rocks until around 10:00 am.. There was a fair amount of fighting among the seals, as though they were sorting out territorial issues among new rivals.  The seal on the right in the photo below is shown taking a bite of his neighbor's tail for no good reason that I could discern.

At 10:00, a second boat showed up and scared most of the remaining seals off the tall rocks.  The photo below shows the seals taking a big slide off the tall, slanted rock.

After lunch, we took a walk at Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge and were treated to several hours of interesting nature observation at Otter Point.  We saw a variety of birds, including cardinals, downy woodpeckers, belted kingfishers, great blue heron, red tailed hawk, marsh hawk, and a bald eagle, as well as numerous ducks and other waterfowl.  The highlight of our walk was a great sighting of an American bittern, we videotaped this beautiful creature stalking prey along the shoreline.

11/12/10 - 34 seals hauled-out; 50 degrees, wind N 10 to 15, clear. 16:30
24 seals were hauled out at 15:00, they took up all available space on the few tall rocks that were exposed three hours before low tide. The seals were really eager to get a good rest on the rocks after many consecutive days of stormy weather and harsh north winds. The large mature seals were all over rocks that will hold mostly juvenile seals later this season and there were more territory skirmishes than usual with so many seals perched on locations where they do not usually rest. This made for some entertaining seal observation right until sunset; it was too bad that the low tide was after dark this afternoon, as more seals were still arriving as I headed for the car.

11/6/10
- 6 seals hauled-out; 50 degrees, wind N 10 to 15 gusts to 30, cloudy. 15:00
Not many seals out, a blustery north wind was probably the reason, although the seals could have been spooked before we arrived.  There are lobster pots set in close proximity to the flat rock, we will be watching this week to see how this affects the seals.  1 seal on the right "twin" rock was a large spotted adult, this seal gave numerous Saturday seal watchers a good view of a seal through the scope; the other seals were on the "cluster" rock and not so easy to see.  This seal has taken a shine to the high perch on the right twin; I have seen the same seal up there twice before this season.  It is unusual so see such a big seal haul out on a tall rock and it will be interesting so see if this seal keeps clambering up there as the season progresses.

When we arrived there was a large group of  people on the beach, I don't think they had spotted the seals, so we were happy to be able to show them the few seals that were present through the scope.  A group of kayakers passed through the area, but they kept close to the shoreline and did not scare the seals, that was nice to see.  With sightings of a Cooper's hawk, red tailed hawk, and great blue heron to spice up our hike to Rome Point and lots of friendly folks out and about, today's seal watch was well worth the time invested, despite the low number of seals that were present.

10/24/10 - 12 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind N 5 to calm, cloudy. 15:00
Not much time for a seal walk today, so I walked down to the end of the gravel road to survey the seal situation, expecting that the seals would probably have been scared away on such a calm Sunday.  I was surprised to see a dozen or so seals on the flat rock, of course, I could not resist walking up the shore to the point to get a closer look. As I arrived at the point, a boat had arrived and was jockeying for position off the rocks to get a good look at the seals.  For the second straight day a boat observing the seals kept a respectable distance so the remaining seals were left undisturbed, but it is likely that there were fewer seals out today because some of the group had been scared earlier by some other boat.  A lobster boat arrived later and actually threw something at the seals in an apparent attempt to feed them, but again this boat stayed far enough away the the seals paid little attention.  The light was good for seal observation and there were several friendly groups of seal watchers around, so all in all this was a good, but brief seal watch; on a calm beautiful autumn day by the bay what's not to like, even if it was not an especially active seal show.

10/23/10 - 43 seals hauled-out; 60 degrees, wind W 15 decreasing to 10, partly cloudy. 14:00
A good seal watch on a splendid fall day, with the forest foliage at peak color and the seals in peak resting form.  The tide was a neap tide today and the seals took full advantage of the low water for an extended rest on the rocks.  Just like last Sunday, the west wind worked it's seal watching magic, keeping boats away so the seals can stay.  One cabin cruiser spent some time around the rocks checking out the seals, but this boat did not get close enough to scare more than a couple of seals.  It was nice to have two consecutive weekend seal watches with the seals not disturbed; especially considering the way they were being chased around every weekend back in March and April.

Other creatures provided extra entertainment at Rome Point today, most notably a sharp-shinned hawk that made several appearances.  This hawk came zooming out of the woods to attack a crow that was perched on the rocks right in front of me, but the crow avoided the marauding raptor and made for the shelter of the trees with a squawking "caw caw"; the sharpie was still on his tail as they flew out of sight. Taking advantage of the extra-low tide, I did a little beachcombing and found as many as 40 Asian shore crabs under the best flat hiding rocks; this invasive species has really taken hold and would be best served up as bait for tautog.  A few sea stars and bay scallops were also scattered among the rocks. On the walk back to the parking lot, numerous gray squirrels, a couple of white tailed deer, and many birds including chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, and blue jays, kept me company and made the dry forest come alive with the sound of rustling autumn leaves.  As the evening light filtered through the colorful canopy, I had the feeling that fall had finally arrived in full glory, complete with a full harvest moon on the rise.

10/17/10 - 24 seals hauled-out, 3 on far rock; 58 degrees, wind W 10 - 15, partly cloudy. 11:00
First seal watch of the 2010 - 2011 season.  We were very pleased to be able to see some seals today; I believe the steady west wind kept most of the pleasure boats at the dock, but the seals are not bothered much by a west wind because the Rome Point shoreline and trees provide some shelter for the haul-out rocks.  All seals present were mature adults, I was able to recognize 3 seals from last year for sure and possibly another return visitor.  One seal that I knew for sure was the indomitable Linebelly, who was back again perched upon his favorite pointy rock; seeing Linebelly on that rock brought a smile to my face like seeing an old friend for the first time in a while.  The tide came in quickly today and by 12:00 only 12 seals remained.

An unusual sight back in Bissel Cove was a fancy sailboat that had gone adrift and beached on the peninsula.  Someone painted a message on the hull claiming the vessel under maritime law.  I don't know the law of the sea, but an acquaintance told me that any vessel that lies unclaimed by its owner for 30 days becomes the property of the claimant under salvage law.  As I am only moderately seaworthy and not especially enamored with sailing, everyone can rest assured that any other sailing vessels that come to rest on the Rome Point shore will not be claimed by me under any circumstances.  I am, however, in the market for a 20 foot center console fishing boat, who knows, maybe I'll luck out and the boat of my dreams will wash ashore someday for me to claim!


2009-2010 Season

4/30/10 - 46 seals hauled-out; 65 degrees, wind W - 15, clear. 13:45
Last seal watch of the 2009 - 2010 season.  Most of the remaining seals are juveniles, I counted only 14 adult seals among the group today.  Linebelly was on the pointy rock, I watched old Linebelly climb up there at low tide when he could have had the choice of many more comfortable and more easily accessible rocks.  The seal numbers gradually increased over the course of the afternoon, with 50 seals hauled out at 14:20 and 53 seals hauled out at 15:10.

The past seal season was remarkable in several ways, not the least of which was our enhanced capability for identifying individual seals as a result of the HD video footage were are taking through the scope.  I can now identify about 25 seals when I have reference photos along to check the spot patterns against and there are 8 seals I can identify on sight.  When you can identify individuals it allows for much more insight into the behavior of these creatures; for example, I now know that certain seals not only return to Rome Point year after year, but that they have preferred rocks where the same seals repeatedly haul out.  The personalities of some individuals are also apparent, especially the feisty Guardian who repels interlopers from the flat rock where the mature male seals hold court.  

Some of the things that made this seal season unique were less desirable for the seals and seal observers.  Bad weather around Christmas and New Years limited the seal watching during the holidays, which was disappointing.  Our seal watching was curtailed in February and March due to an illness in the family, however; after my dad passed away on March 9, seal watching served as a relaxing, distracting comfort in a time of grief and stress.  Dad never got to see the seals at Rome Point, but my passion for nature is a big part of his legacy and I learned from spending time with him that the more ones life revolves around natural rhythms of tides, moon phases, animal behavior, and weather, the more fulfilled and contented your life will be.

March and April were notable for the mostly balmy weekend days, which brought out recreational watercraft in record numbers to disturb the seals.  There were several nice Saturdays and Sundays when we did not bother to walk out to Rome Point because we knew that the seals were sure to be scared away. While occurrances of the seals being disturbed by recreational boaters and kayakers continue to increase, more troubling to us is commercial activity that disrupts the seals behavior; namely, lobster fishing in the vicinity of the haul out rocks.  I would like to thank the oyster aquaculture operators who work in the area between the Jamestown Bridge and Rome Point for their outstanding and consistent conservation ethics; they never bother the seals as they go about their business.  The same cannot be said for certain lobster fishing operations; next season, we are not going to tolerate commercial activity that repeatedly disturbs the Rome Point seals.

The more time I spend at Rome Point watching seals, the more I have come to appreciate the unique nature of Rome Point and the seal watching experience.  I have looked all up and down the New England coast and I know of only one other place that comes close to the combination of attributes that make Rome Point so special.  Open public access, the right rocks just the right distance from shore, sheltered observation locations, and of course the abundant seals all converge at Rome Point to make this place an under-appreciated treasure that consistently offers a family nature experience that is rivaled only by the best that our national parks have to offer.  I would be remiss if I did not also mention all of our seal watching friends, acquaintances, and their pets, as a big part of the appeal of Rome Point to us is sharing our optics equipment and knowledge with the community.

If commercial and even recreational activity which disturbs the federally protected seals continues to increase, we may be someday compelled to mobilize our seal watching community to protect this unique natural resource.  We would much prefer to let sleeping seals lie so to speak, but we will take whatever action is required to protect the seals from undue disturbance resulting from commercial fishing operations.  Seal disturbances caused by recreational watercraft are generally more sporadic but were consistent on March and April weekends this season, depriving many families who can only get out to Rome Point on weekends of the opportunity to see this amazing nature show.  At first glance, education of the boating public would seem to be a possible solution, however, we recognize that Rome Point has a limited capacity to accommodate visitors and that any public education action that calls media attention to the Rome Point seals could have unintended consequences (like 500 people showing up on a nice spring Saturday).  

This spring marks the tenth anniversary of serious seal observation for me, and I must thank my wife and seal watching companion Jill for sharing this passion with me and for tolerating all the cold fingers and toes when I say "just 5 more minutes" for the tenth time.  She is a forceful advocate for the seals who is not a happy camper when they are chased away by boats; it is all I can do to keep her from deploying a potato cannon on the Rome Point shore to fend off the invading boat and kayak armadas (ha, ha just kidding).  Together, we eagerly await our first fall seal walk in October and look forward to the rewards and challenges of another Season of the Seals.

4/24/10 - 33 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind SW 5 -10, clear. 9:45
The seals were spooked at 10:10 by a lobster boat that has set pots in this area; the fisherman pulled almost all of the pots, perhaps because lobster fishing is sure to be poor with seals in the area.  4 seals remained after the lobster fisherman completed his activities.  A few seals returned; when I left at noon, there were 13 seals hauled out.

4/15/10 - 63 seals hauled-out; 60 degrees, wind NE 5 -15, clear. 14:30
A worthwhile seal watch for the nice folks who made the trek out to Rome Point today, despite the brisk northeast wind. A good mix of adult and juvenile seals, with the big seals on the flat rock and the young seals scattered about the less desirable rocks. When the tide started coming in, the rocks started getting splashed, so about 30 seals departed; there were still a dozen seals remaining at 16:00 when I left. The remaining seals were kept company by at least 60 double-crested cormorants that arrived in several flocks and took over the white rock in force; when you see that many cormorants on that rock, it removes all doubt about why the rock is stained white.

4/14/10 - 66 seals hauled-out; 65 degrees, wind NE 5 to calm to S10-15, clear. 12:10
Seals spooked by a single kayak at 12:40, only 4 seals remained undisturbed. A few more seals gradually hauled out, increasing the seal count to 21 at 13:50. The wind shifted to the south and picked up about 14:00, causing the seals on the south rocks to leave; only 8 seals remained at 14:20.

4/12/10 - 44 seals hauled-out; 65 degrees, wind S 10-15, partly cloudy to clear. 13:40
The stiff south wind kept the seal numbers relatively low today, although there were probably more seals hauled out earlier in the tide. About a 50/50 split between juvenile and adult seals, with no seals on the tall rocks. As the tide, pushed by the south wind, rose rapidly, the seals departed early in the flood tide.

4/11/10 - 88 seals hauled-out; 65 degrees, wind SW 10-15, partly cloudy to clear. 12:30
7 seals on far rock for 95 seals total. Not many juvenile seals around today, the tall rocks to the left did not have any seals on them. The seals managed to get a good long rest before they were spooked by kayaks at 13:10, only a couple of young seals remained after the three kayaks approached the rocks.

4/10/10 - 112 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind W 15, partly cloudy. 11:45
7 seals on far rock for 119 seals total. The seals were hauled out and settled when we arrived two hours before low tide, and remained undisturbed until we left at 13:00. A Grey seal is hanging around with the big seals on the flat rock, this seal has a brown head and golden coloration of the upper torso. I first spotted this seal back on March 24; this is the longest time that I have seen the same Grey seal remain at the Rome Point rocks. Today was also good for bird watching. with two pair of horned grebes and a couple of loons spotted. The stiff west wind kept the watercraft away, but there were some kayaks in the area when we were leaving; hopefully, they proceeded along the shore and did not scare the seals.

3/28/10
- 125 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind S 15-10, partly cloudy. 11:30
As I was counting the seals a significant number were leaving the rocks for no apparent reason, so there were probably more than 125 right before I started counting. At any rate, there were still 80 seals remaining after the seals spooked and this number gradually increased to 95 at 13:00. Sometimes a bunch of seals will just take off for no reason that I can discern; this happens most often when there are over 100 seals present on the rocks. 95 seals is still a lot of seals, so the many nice seal watchers who braved the chilly wind were fortunate to see a large number of seals under good optical conditions, making this day one of the better seal watches of the season.

There were 2 Grey seals on the rocks, one of the Grey's was a new arrival with beautiful black fur. This seal had some white splotches on it's chest resulting in a checkerboard-like pattern, earning him/her the gender-neutral name "Checkers". Checkers was kind of shy so we did not get a photo to post here, but we'll be looking for this seal when we return to Rome Point for more seal watching in about 10 days.

3/25/10 - 165 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind W 5-10, clear. 09:30
8 seals on far rock and 5 at Greene Point for 178 seals total; by far the most seals of this season! Unfortunately, the seals were disturbed at 9:45 by a lobsterman who set his pots much too close to the haul-out rocks. All the seals were scared off the rocks, but after the lobster boat left the area some of the seals returned. By 10:30 there were 55 seals and by 11:30, 90 seals had returned; but at 11:45 another boat approached the rocks and scared away all but 12 seals. After the second boat departed about 50 seals came back by 12:15. The weather was too nice for the seals to be completely denied their rest by boats today, but with every disturbance the number of seals in the area diminished.

One of the Grey seals from yesterday was back today, I spotted this seal swimming early and, later, hauled out in the center cluster of seals. There was not a lot of active behavior, just some sporadic short-lived territorial fighting. It's too bad the big group of seals was disturbed so early in the rest cycle; the boat responsible has chased the seals away on other occasions this winter. You can't set lobster pots where you are going to spook one of the largest concentrations of wintering seals in southern New England every time you check the pots; I don't know what some people are thinking (not thinking?).

3/24/10 - 95 seals hauled-out; 50 degrees, wind W/NW 15-25, partly cloudy. 09:00
7 seals on far rock and 5 seals swimming for 107 seals total. The wind was howling as I walked to the car to drive to Rome Point, so I went back inside to check the wind direction on the NWS marine weather website. The report indicated west wind at Newport so I decided to go check on the seals, as they often tolerate west wind well. It appeared the seals were happy for their chance to rest despite the blustery conditions, but as the wind picked up to unreasonable levels around 10:15 (gusts > 35 knots), many of the seals departed.

The storm yesterday brought some rare visitors to the Rome Point rocks; there were two Grey seals on the flat rock this morning. It took me a while to spot them, as they had their backs to me; but even before I identified them I thought there were some different seals on that rock beside the usual suspects. Grey seals are common on Cape Cod but rarely venture into Narragansett Bay, so it was a treat to see them here for the first time in a couple of years. The photo below is of the two Grey seals; they are readily identifiable in profile by their long, straight snouts, which give them the nickname "horse head" seals.


3/21/10 - 23 seals hauled-out; 58 degrees, wind SW 15-5, clear. 17:00
At 2:30 today there were 6 seals on the tall rocks; apparently, the stiff southwest breeze was sufficient to keep the boats and kayaks away. The number of seals slowly increased over the next two hours, with another 6 adult seals hauling out on a rock we call the "right mound". While the seals were not great in number, the contrasting views of the young seals on the tall rocks and the full grown seals on the mound made for good seal watching for the many families who made it out to Rome Point to watch seals today.

3/20/10 - 10 seals hauled-out; 65 degrees, wind SW 10-15, clear. 15:30
Another Saturday seal watch that was affected by boats and kayaks in the area; I am sure the presence of the watercraft was responsible for the low numbers of seals that were observed today. As we arrived at 14:30 there were two kayaks and one motor boat in close proximity to the rocks. I was surprised to see a single brave seal that tolerated the interlopers and remained on the rocks, but there were few seals swimming in the area. With low tide not until after 5pm, we decided to stay to see if any more seals showed up; sure enough, at 15:30 some seals began hauling out one the center cluster area. However, another boat arrived on the scene and chased most of these seals off the rocks. When we left at 16:30, there were still 6 seals hauled out, which was fortunate for the large seal watching contingent that arrived late in the afternoon. We were especially happy for one little girl who got a great view of a seal fight thru the scope; the sight of these seals snapping at each other amused her greatly.

Before our seal walk we visited the Great Swamp Management area, and I must say this place did not disappoint us. We had good sightings of bluebirds, ring-necked ducks, great blue herons, and a great horned owl. We also found bobcat tracks and most surprisingly, some unmistakable bear scat. It was like a hike in Maine or someplace in the big woods, seeing sign of bobcat and bear on a single outing is a first for us in Rhode Island.

This great horned owl has appropriated an osprey nest; this nest will make a sturdy home for the owl chicks, having weathered the winter storms so well.

 

3/19/10 - 65 seals hauled-out; 60 degrees, wind S 10-15, clear. 15:25
The bay was rough with a steady south wind opposing the outgoing tide. Some seals were active early pogoing and porpoising, but mostly a mellow day with a lot less seals than the past two days. I did manage to capture a good shot of a jumping seal on video, which is a challenge, as they always seem to jump into or out of the video frame. The best sighting was a peregrine falcon which soared around in the area for about two minutes; peregrine falcons are my personal favorite so I was grateful to see this bird, which looked to be an adult female.

Here is a frame capture image from the video of the seal porpoising; someday soon, video is coming to this website!

 

3/18/10 - 138 seals hauled-out; 65 degrees, wind SW 10, clear. 13:30
6 on far rock and 1 at Greene Point for 145 seals total at 13:30. Best seal watch of the season so far, with many, active seals and balmy weather. The seals were out early in the outgoing tide again, and were obviously inspired by the fine weather. From 12:30 thru 13:10, numerous territory battles were fought and lots of vocalization could be heard. During this time, 4 different seals were seen leaping completely out of the water ("porpoising"). The seals settled down briefly, then at 13:40 about 60 seals were spooked off the rocks by a passing sailboat. The sailor did not approach the rocks, but the younger seals on the tall rocks scare relatively easily, and many took the plunge from off of the high rocks with a big splash I could hear clearly from shore.

This commotion stirred up the entire herd and, as the seals that were scared returned to the rocks, the fighting for a good rock resumed. Just as they were settling down, a seal swam past leaping from the water for 1/2 the length of the rocks. This seal porpoised 7 consecutive times by my count, setting a new record for seal aerial acrobatic endurance! After 14:15 about 115 seals remained, and they had an undisturbed rest for the remainder of the afternoon.

3/17/10 - 108 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind S 10-15, clear. 14:00
Seals were on the rocks early due to a new moon low tide, 100 seals were hauled out almost 3 hours before low tide. At 14:00, I noticed there were some nervous seals; shortly thereafter, about 1/2 of the herd spooked for no apparent reason. There were 70 seals on the rocks at 14:45 when a boat approached the rocks and scared all but 2 of the seals away. This was the same boat as on March 6; that's two strikes on this vessel. By 15:20 only 7 seals were hauled out and it was clear that most of the seals had left the area for this tide cycle.

Some sings of spring were in evidence today as the wood frogs were in voice and I spotted an orange butterfly (moth?) on the trail. Two pairs of pied-billed grebes greeted me at the shoreline as well, and an immature loon was also spotted fishing in the area.

3/7/10 - 0 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind NW 10, clear. 14:45
We did not have much time for a seal walk, so we decided to take a quick walk down to the shore without walking all the way to the point. There were no seals on any of the rocks and there were a pair of kayaks, a boat, and a catamaran all in the area. Low tide was 6:07pm today, so if we had another hour to spare we probably would have seen seals hauling out, assuming all the watercraft departed and no other boats showed up. Too bad for all the people who were out and about today; the parking area and road was as full of cars as I have ever seen.

3/6/10 - 50 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind calm to S 5 then 10, clear. 13:45
When we arrived at 14:00, about 20 seals on the tall rocks were all wet, as though they had just hauled out or, more likely, had been scared off the rocks, taken a swim and returned to rest some more. Seals arrived regularly over the next half-hour, but with temperatures approaching 50 degrees and calm winds my expectations that the seals might be disturbed this afternoon turned out to be true. At 1435 a family rowed out to see the seals in a dory; while they did maintain a good distance from the rocks, the unusual sight of the silent dory approaching was enough to spook about 30 of the seals. This was followed up by a power boat that arrived as the dory was rowing away; the boat scared the remaining seals into the water. The boat remained in the area for 20 minutes during the time when the main group of seals was arriving at the rocks, keeping the rocks unoccupied by seals for a while even after the boat departed

With low tide still 2 hours away, we elected to hang around for awhile to see how many seals would show up. By 1540 there were 8 seals hauled out, 3 adults on the flat rock and 5 juveniles on the far left rocks. This was fortunate for the late arriving seal watchers and gave us some seals to show off in the scope. By 1620 there were 18 seals hauled out, with about 7 adults on the flat rock and 11 juveniles on the far left. These seals were striking picturesque poses in the good late afternoon light, so we were pleased that we stayed to see the seals even after the main body of the herd was spooked away by boats.

We took full advantage of the beautiful day by going for a walk at Sachuest Natl. Wildlife refuge in the morning before our seal walk. We were rewarded by excellent observations of  harlequin ducks, as well as sightings of Red-tail, Coopers, Sharp-shinned, and Marsh hawks. Still not satisfied after our seal watch, we decided to take a night-time walk in our backyard woods with the night vision scope. Night scopes are fun toys that are especially useful for locating owls, but you never know what species of eyes will be shining back at you in the eerie infrared light. On this night, it was the eyes of a skunk shuffling down the trail towards us that commanded our attention and caused us to beat an undignified retreat to couch patrol; a too-close encounter with the odoriferous weasel would have spoiled a day of fine late-winter nature outings.

3/5/10 - 46 seals hauled-out; 35 degrees, wind N/NE 15 to 10, cloudy. 15:35
Seal watching today was cold and damp due to the chilly easterly wind.  Seals were feisty and one of the best rocks was the site of a battle royal between two rival seals who were determined to fit 4 seals on a 3 seal rock. I took some good video as these seals fought repeatedly to gain the desired perch; in the end they managed to fit 4 seals on that rock...much to my surprise. It was rough on the bay and the breaking waves kept the seals off the low-lying rocks until late into the ebb tide. With a northeast wind at 15 knots, big seal numbers were not likely today; the weather report for the upcoming weekend looks much better.

2/28/10 - 115 seals hauled-out; 38 degrees, wind N/NE 5 to 10, cloudy. 12:45
7 seals on far rock for 122 seals total, most seals so far this season. A fine seal watch, hampered only by the chilly wind that could not be avoided because of the somewhat easterly wind direction. Not too bad for most seal watchers, but for someone who often hangs out for 3 or 4 hours, that cold, damp breeze gets uncomfortable after a couple of hours. It is possible to get out of the wind by hiding behind some trees in the woods, which I sometimes do on weekdays. On weekends with lots of seal seekers around I prefer to be more sociable and tough it out on the beach; the good company of long-time seal watchers and first-time families like I had today helps make the cold breeze much more tolerable.

The sole benefit of an easterly wind is that you can hear the seal's vocalizations better and today they sure had a lot to say. The large number of adult seals resulted in continuous territory disputes from 11:30 thru 12:30, with lots of accompanying growls and grunts from the unsettled seals. As the wind picked up over the course of the afternoon, many of the seals never did settle into peaceful resting mode, instead, most groups of seals continued to scan frequently and snooze occasionally. This is typical behavior for a north wind, however, there are always some seals who manage to sleep soundly without regard to wind or waves. Perhaps, some seals sleep so well because of their activity level when they were swimming around at high tide. For my part, I know I will sleep soundly tonight after 3+ hours on the beach at Rome Point watching seals in today's chilly conditions.

2/15/10 - 82 seals hauled-out; 37 degrees, wind W 15 to SW 10, clear. 14:00
2 seals on far rock and 3 at Greene Point for 87 seals total. Another great seal watch with numerous friendly families out for a President's Day seal spotting walk. No one was disappointed as the seals were in fine form, perhaps a bit on the mellow side, but after a long spell of relatively poor weather the seals were happy to oblige everyone by staying out on the rocks all afternoon. The past 4 days have been progressively better for seal watching, as long as the cold north wind does not return, the remainder of this week promises to be very good for afternoon seal watching.

The seal pictured below has been returning to the same rock for the past 4 days. When this seal lays in this position it appears to have an unusually humped back, so today I named this seal "Humphrey".

This photo of the dominant seals on the flat rock was taken in the evening light, which serves to enhance my often lame efforts at photography. The seals in this photo are about 325 yards from shore; when taking photos across water at this distance the soft evening light reduces optical distortion. The seals on the right side of the rock appear to be checking me out closely.

The always reliable juvenile seals were on the tall rocks we call the "twins" again, as I was packing up to leave two of these seal took a high dive right off the front of the rock. The young seals on the tall rocks often arrive early at the haul-out site, which extends the length of time when seal are present on the rocks.


2/14/10
- 72 seals hauled-out; 35 degrees, wind W 10-15, clear. 12:45
2 Seals on far rock for 74 seals total. A very good day with lots of photogenic seals posing for a large group of enthusiastic observers on shore. Not much interesting behavior during the couple of hours we were there; this is typical as the seals are most settled right around dead low tide. If we had stayed later, the seals activity level would have picked up as the tide rose. The seals seemed determined to get good rest today after being chased away yesterday; when they are in this mood they will often fight a bit to hold the high ground as the water rises and waves wash their bodies into each other. The weather looks encouraging for good seal watching every day during the upcoming week except perhaps Tuesday, which bodes well for the families who often take advantage of school vacation week to enjoy a winter seal walk at Rome Point.

2/13/10 - 70 seals hauled-out; 35 degrees, wind NW 10, high thin clouds. 12:45
6 seals on far rock for 76 seals total. A fine seal watch that was ended prematurely by a paddle boarder; these new aquatic conveyances are like large surfboards upon which the operator stands upright and propels with a long paddle. I was surprised to see someone out for a paddle on one of these gadgets in Mid-February; even more surprising was when the paddler circled the rocks at 13:20, scaring away all the seals except one brave juvenile seal. It was after low tide so all the spooked seals left the area, ending the seal watching for this day. With the recent helicopter episode and now a paddle board scaring the seals, there seems to be no end to the ingenious ways that humans can devise to interfere with the natural world. I hope that like the helicopter, paddle boarding will be a rare sight at Rome Point in the winter. A lot of Saturday afternoon seal watchers were disappointed today, too bad for the first nice weekend seal watch in about a month.

2/12/10 - 60 seals hauled-out; 35 degrees, wind NW 15 decreasing to 10, clear. 12:30
4 seals on far rock for 64 seals total. Not much activity among the seals as I watched about 30 of them haul out. The seals just picked a rock, climbed on top, and proceeded to take their nap. There was plenty of room for all the seals; they were spread out on all the available rocks. The best sighting of the day was a female marsh hawk (northern harrier) that swooped past low across the bay from Jamestown to Bissel Cove. It was a small victory to pick out the marsh hawk from among the many gulls, ducks, and geese that were flying around the area; the white-rumped marsh hawks are a personal favorite that we see often in South County salt marshes.

1/21/10 - 50 seals hauled-out; 32 degrees, wind SE to S to SW 10 decreasing to 5, clear. 16:00
Seals were high and dry on tall rocks 4 hours before low tide today; this happened for a while last season as well. I do not know if these seals stayed on the rocks through the high tide or whether they returned after the tide ran out for a short while. One of these days, I'll have to stay for the entire day when low tides is around 6am, just to satisfy my curiosity about the seals that I sometimes see on the tall rocks very early in the outgoing tide. I know the seals do not always arrive so early in the outgoing tide (or hold over as the case may be), but I'm glad when they do, as these seals provide extended viewing opportunities on "split tide" days. I suspect these seals are staying on the rocks all day when the weather is favorable, but I have no observations at high tide to confirm my suspicion.

Seals were mellow today with 50 seals spread out all over the rocks there was plenty of space and no cause for seal confrontations. One seal had a bleeding wound on it's belly and two other seals had smaller bloody cuts; looks like seal life has become a bit more difficult this week. The bleeding seal was the first truly injured one I observed this season. There are always a few seals who either collide with underwater obstacles while feeding, injure themselves on sharp rocks, or perhaps have been bitten by another sea creature. Most wounded seals seem to recover just fine and we observe the wound is healing. However some injured seals stop showing up at the haul out rocks after a few days; their fate will probably never be known.

1/20/10 - 50 seals hauled-out; 32 degrees, wind NW 10-15, partly cloudy. 15:00
4 seals on far rock for 54 seals total. Only two seals south of pointy rock, this happens when winds blow strong from the northwest. 20 seals were on tall rocks high and dry 3 hours before low tide, however, over the next three hours only 30 more seals showed up. A fine seal watch today with good light for the optics toys and a wide variety of behavior observed. The center cluster was crowded with large seals which resulted in an hour of mild fighting and jostling for position until these seals settled down. Some of the seals on the center cluster were the dominant seals which usually rule the flat rock; but with northwest wind the cluster rock is more sheltered, so the largest seals took over the cluster for the day.

Late in the afternoon several groups of seal watchers converged on the point; these intrepid seal seekers were members of a home schooling network, out for an informal field trip. The kids and adults alike were entertained by the excellent views of seals and everyone had an opportunity to take a long turn at the spotting scope. It's great when a large group shows up during a weekday when there are fewer seal watchers around, during the week everyone can take as long as they like checking out the seals thru the scope without feeling like they are holding up a line of people. I was glad I stayed long enough to help the appreciative home-schoolers observe and learn about the seals; this was a pleasant surprise to conclude one of the best seals watches this season.

1/17/10 - 15 seals hauled-out; 43 degrees, wind calm to E 10, cloudy. 12:30
The calm conditions in the morning brought out a boat and a couple of kayaks to see the seals; they were in the process of scaring the seals away when I arrived at 11:15. 6 seals stayed on the rocks as the boat and kayaks drifted down the bay with the tide, the interlopers stayed in the area for about 20 minutes. The boats deterred some seals that were just arriving at the rocks from hauling out but a few seals did hang around for everyone to see. There were a good number of people out to see the seals right around lunch time and they got good views of a small number of seals. There were not many swimming seals visible despite the calm conditions; I do not believe today was going to be a big seal day even if the boats had not scared the seals at haul -out time.

The seals will often react to loud noises; boats, airplanes, noise from Quonset, or other sounds coming from land may startle the seals, but they usually settle down after scanning around for trouble. Loud sounds by themselves are not usually sufficient to scare the seals off the rocks, but sometimes barking dogs or gunshots during waterfowl hunting season will spook the seals. Today the seals were scared off the rocks at 12:35 by a helicopter that flew over much lower than usual. Only 1 seal stayed on the rocks after the helicopter passed directly over the rocks; about 6 seals came back over the next 20 minutes. I have been seeing this helicopter in the area this season, but this is the first time it came close enough to scare the seal; in 9 years, this is the first time I have seen the seals spooked by any aircraft. Shortly after the helicopter incident a chilly east wind came up, which brought today's seal watch to an early conclusion.

The seals were spooked on both Saturday and Sunday; this commonly occurs when relatively nice weather (e.g. calm wind and above freezing temperatures) coincides with the weekend. Even in January, people set out on the bay for recreation; well-equipped kayakers are especially fond of winter paddles when the wind is calm because of the absence of power boats. I try to get out to Rome Point about 2 1/2 hours before low tide on nice weekends because I know there is a good possibility that some watercraft may scare the seals; I like to think that the presence of seal watchers on shore may deter boats and kayaks from approaching the seal rocks on some occasions. Helicopters are a new wrinkle but I suspect this was a one-time event; the chopper had a large registration number clearly visible so if this happens again, a call to the FAA should serve to protect the seals from additional aerial harassment.

1/16/10 - 65 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind W 10, Partly cloudy. 11:45
5 seals on far rock for 70 seals total. We went out to Rome Point 3 hours before low tide today to see the seals hauling out and to be sure to see seals on a nice Saturday when I suspected kayakers might be out and about. Many seals were already high and dry when we arrived, the new moon brings an astronomical low tide, causing the seals to haul out earlier than usual; the calm conditions also contribute to the seals arriving early at their resting rocks. There were a lot of people around so I was distracted and did not get a good recount before kayaks arrived at 12:20, there were probably about 75 seals out by then. To the kayaker's credit, they made a game effort not to scare the seals as they approached from the south; however, they did not get close to shore soon enough and all but 15 of the seals spooked. The kayaks did not hang around or approach the rocks, so the seals gradually returned; by 14:20 there were 46 seals hauled out, plus 4 at Greene Point. The best seal viewing was before the kayaks showed up, but the many seal watchers who came out today did manage to get a good look at a decent number of seals.

1/15/10 - 85 seals hauled-out; 42 degrees, wind W 10, Partly cloudy. 13:10
5 seals on far rock and 4 at Greene Point for 94 seals total. An excellent January seal watch. The seals were loving the warm temperature and light west wind. Seals were settled into their rest mode already when I arrived 2 1/2 hours before low tide, so I did not get to observe much active behavior until later. The seals were totally zoned out today, many were sleeping soundly while just a few seals scanned for predators. There are about 15 1st year seals around now, most were perched on the tall rocks to the left. At low tide, herring gulls were actively diving for sea stars around the rocks; one of the gulls came up with a starfish and, in it's excitement, tried to land on a seal. The seal did not think this was a good plan, and snapped aggressively at the startled gull.

One juvenile seal attracted my attention because of it's unusual spot pattern, this seal may have been a harp seal. It never settled down to sleep, but continued scanning nervously for a long time. Suddenly, this seal bolted off the rock with a splashy departure; this commotion scared about 35 seals off of their rocks. Most of these seals came back after they realized that there was no threat, however, their return disrupted the other seals and caused several territory fights to break out. One of these fights was among the big seals on the flat rock; I took some nice video of a seal being shoved off this rock by an angry rival.

1/14/10 - 78 seals hauled-out; 30 degrees, wind calm, cloudy then clear. 13:15
7 seals on far rocks for 85 seals total. Very good seal watch today with the calm winds, best day so far this season. Several seals were porpoising as they approached the haul out rocks; other seals cruised along the surface of the water from far out in the bay all the way to the rocks. Seals were active on the rocks for a long time with territorial feuds and loud vocalizing. Calm winds are always the best conditions for seal watching because the seals swim right on the surface and seem more inclined to breach out of the water on calm days. The seals often stay late into the incoming tide when winds are calm because wind-driven waves are not splashing and jostling the seals.

I took a lot of time today observing the seals closely as they rested and I must say the whole herd looks fat and happy. None of the seals have open wounds or entanglement scars around their neck, this is the most healthy that I have ever seen the entire group. One seal today apparently had something caught in it's throat as it gagged and coughed intermittently for about 1/2 hour; eventually, the seal settled down for a nap. I recognized another seal that I had not seen previously this season; the spotted seal with the golden coloration (the seal on the left at the top of the "Where are the Seals" page) has returned. Linebelly arrived late, clambering clumsily on to the pointy rock, which was high out of the water at low tide.

1/12/10 - 45 seals hauled-out; 30 degrees, wind NW 5-10, clear. 12:00
I had noticed some lobster pots set unusually close to the seal rocks, back on Dec. 31 a seal was briefly entangled in a lobster trap buoy rope. I wondered who was setting pots so close to the seals; at 12:10 a lobster boat arrived and pulled the pots with the blue buoys attached. The seals were scared away by this activity, only 6 seals returned to the rocks by 13:00. Thankfully, the lobster fisherman removed the pots from the area, presumably because they all came up empty. With so many seals in the area, Rome Point is not a good choice for lobster fishing during the winter. Seals are known to eat lobsters and are also suspected to raid lobster pots for bait and captive crustaceans, so lobster fishermen generally stay away from locations where seals are abundant. Those pots were set too close to the rocks; now that I have identified the culprit I can take action if he sets pots within 50 yards of the seal rocks later in the season.

1/4/10
- 77 seals hauled-out; 30 degrees, wind NW 10, clear. 16:15
6 on far rock and 1 at Greene Point for 84 seals total. An interesting seal watch today as I watched the seals haul-out over the course of the afternoon. Some porpoising behavior was observed, especially late in the outgoing tide as late arrivals joined the seals already on the rocks. Linebelly was on the pointy rock again; the picture below shows Linebelly's characteristic scar. A distinctive marking such as this makes some seals easy to identify, Linebelly has been around for at least 3 seasons now, often hauling out on the same uncomfortable looking rock.

Haul-out time is good for observing active seal behavior. A few seals always feel the need to assert their dominance as they establish their resting territory for the day; the photo below is an example of a seal claiming it's territory with a ferocious-looking bite. These two seals settled down after they figured out which one was the boss. There were several skirmishes on this rock involving various seals over the course of about an hour.

There were a few more yearling seals around today, maybe about a dozen. Still not as many young seals as last season, perhaps the seals were especially frisky back in the summer of 2008. The juvenile seals are often relegated to the tall rocks pictured below; note the very unusual coloration of the seal on the left.

 
12/31/09
- 74 seals hauled-out; 28 degrees, wind calm, cloudy with snow.  10:40
5 seals swimming and 3 on far rock for 82 seals total.  It started to snow steadily when I was halfway to the point, but I continued on to see how many seals were around.  As I suspected, there were a lot of seals out with two hours until low tide; today was a good day for seals with the calm conditions.  In the ten minutes I stayed, I observed a seal jump out of the water with 5 consecutive leaps; it is unusual to see a seal porpoise repeatedly 5 times in close sequence. I also saw a seal become entangled with a lobster pot buoy line, this seal thrashed about for 30 seconds before it managed to free itself. 

While the moderate snowfall did not appear to bother the seals in the least, snowflakes are magnified by the spotting scope which makes for damp and poor viewing conditions. Although I did not stay long because of the snow, the seal watching was interesting for the short time I was there. Today's seal watch would have been excellent had it not been for the ill-timed snow squall; bad luck with weather and tides continues to hamper the seal watching lately, with a poor weather forecast on tap for the upcoming New Year's weekend.

12/30/09
- 34 seals hauled-out; 22 degrees, wind W 10 to15, clear.  12:10
6 seals on far rocks for 40 seals total at 12:10.  Not as many seals as I expected to see; the rocks are well sheltered from a west wind and with the bad weather lately I had hopes for over a hundred seals today. Adult seals were on the flat rock and the pointy rock area (Linebelly was perched high on the pointy rock); a few juvenile seals were on the center cluster. The seals were not active and there were few seals swimming.  Quahoggers were set up outside the mouth of Bissel Cove raking away; occasionally their voices were carried by the west wind and this alarmed the seals. After a few minutes of scanning the seals were satisfied that the quahog fishermen were not a threat and went back to relaxing.  At 13:30, 37 seals hauled out and 7 on far rocks for a total of 44 seals.

It was pleasant in the sun and not especially cold in the shelter of the trees; the way the TV weather people fuss about a little cold weather it's small wonder that so few people venture out during the first cold spell of the season. As long as you stay out of the wind and it is not damp, daytime temperatures in the teens to twenties are surprisingly comfortable. Wearing a warm base layer, insulated boots, and a hat with fleece ear muffs, I stayed for four hours with no problem keeping warm. Sunny, dry winter days are great for outdoor adventures if you choose an activity that provides for some shelter from the wind. Unless the wind is ridiculously strong (like yesterday) or coming out of the east, Rome Point's sheltered beach is just right for a winter walk.

12/28/09 - 90 seals hauled-out; 42 degrees, wind calm to S15, clear to rain.  10:15
8 seals on far rock for 98 seals total at 10:15. Finally, a decent morning for seal watching; however, as soon as the wind kicked up out of the south the seals started to leave.  48 seals remaining at 10:35, down to 28 at 10:40, and 16 seals were left at 10:45.  Mostly adult seals, the young seals should be here by now but I did not see many juveniles today.  By 11:15 there were only 4 seals left on the rocks, when it started to rain I departed hastily.

The past two weeks have been an unfortunate stretch of bad weather and poorly timed low tides. Over the past 9 years I can't recall any two-week period that was worse for seal watching, with a blizzard sandwiched between day after day of unrelenting strong north winds.  The Christmas holiday weekend had early morning low tides and rainy weather on Sunday morning when the seal watching might otherwise have been good. Here's hoping that 2010 ushers in a period of good weather for the benefit of seals and seal watchers.

12/13/09 - 70 seals hauled-out; 36 degrees, wind calm to S10, cloudy to rain.  11:45
8 seals on far rocks and 3 at Greene Point for 81 seals total. Mostly adult seals with a half-dozen juveniles mixed in. As wind picked up from south, seals left the rocks, about 35 seals remaining at 13:30. A good seal watching day with good light and calm wind. We visited with several groups of seal watching friends that we met in previous seasons, which is always a part of the fun; we were fortunate to leave just before the hard rain started.

12/12/09 - 37 seals hauled-out; 28 degrees, wind W 10-15 clear.  11:00
3 seals on far rock and 1 at Greene Point for 41 seals total.  It was surprisingly comfortable for the coldest day of the season so far, the cedar trees blocked the cold west wind and there was bright sunlight to warm the fingers and toes. The water level was extremely low at low tide, the approaching new moon and persistent west wind caused the tide to be much lower than normal. The seals stayed late into the rising tide, with 35 seals still present 2 1/2 hours after low tide. Not much activity from the seals, many of them had their backs facing towards the western shoreline to shield their faces from the wind.

12/8/09 - 12 seals hauled-out; 38 degrees, wind NW 15 decreasing to 5, clear.  16:00
The seals were reluctant to haul out, as the rocks were being splashed by wind generated waves. Seals would haul out for a minute or two, then re-enter the water after they got splashed a few times. At 16:00 as the tide dropped and the wind abated, the seals finally decided it was time for their rest break and within two minutes a dozen seals were on the rocks. Between 15:30 and 16:00 the seals were active in the water with lots of spy-hopping, splashing and porpoising observed. With low tide at 18:47, I'm sure many seals hauled out after I left; the light was fading fast as clouds approached from the west.

Today and the next two days are what I call "split tides", with low tide at the least advantageous time of the day for seal observations. When the low tide at Wickford occurs between 6:30 and 9:30 (am or pm) this time of the year, the daylight window for viewing seals is short or non-existent in the afternoon and the seal watching is only good in the early morning hours. When I lived closer to Rome Point I would sometimes do an early morning seal walk, but the morning sun low on the eastern horizon makes for poor lighting conditions and I rarely bother with early morning seal watches anymore, especially during the short, dark days of December. Unfortunately, split tides are on tap for the Christmas weekend; I know there will be some disappointed people who come out in the afternoon on the Saturday and Sunday after Christmas and do not find any seals on the rocks.

12/7/09 - 70 seals hauled-out; 42 degrees, wind calm, cloudy.  15:45
Nice seal watch today with good lighting conditions, calm winds, and many seals hauling out 3 1/2 hours before low tide.  Seals were mellow as they arrived with very little splashing or porpoising behavior, but they had a lot to say after they hauled out with lots of grunts and growls.  I took advantage of the excellent light for telescope viewing to examine the seals closely for wounds or scars, they all passed the visual checkup with flying colors.  Still mostly mature adult seals, only a half-dozen juveniles.  Just one other person stopped by to keep me company, but the male white-winged scoter was a close companion for most of the afternoon.  Red-breasted mergansers have arrived in good numbers now, and the number of gulls in the area has greatly diminished.

11/17/09 - 3 seals hauled-out; 50 degrees, wind N 10-15, Partly cloudy.  13:50
3 seals on far rock for total of 6 seals hauled out.  Another half dozen seals were bottling out in front of the yellow house on Jamestown (used to be the "white house" but they painted it over the summer).  I suspect the seals were spooked from the rocks before I arrived, but it is also possible that the north wind kept the seal numbers down today.

11/16/09 - 63 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind NW 10, Clear.  12:20
I arrived early to watch the seals haul out and was entertained by a lot of boisterous behavior and loud vocalization.  Seals were splashing about and leaping out of the water as they arrived at the rocks.  After they hauled out, there was much growling and ill-mannered snapping and slapping among the seals.  The seals were especially active today so I stayed later than I intended to enjoy the show.  Over three hours there were no other visitors at the point; sometimes it's nice to have this place all to yourself, especially after a busy Sunday seal watch like yesterday.

11/15/09 - 58 seals hauled-out; 60 degrees, wind N 5, Cloudy, partial clearing later.  12:15
Very good early season seal watch today, seals showed up early and stayed late into the lazy outgoing tide.  There were a lot of kayaks in the area, 20 at least, including a big group on a tour with Joe Sherlock of Eastern Mountain Sports.  Also 5 kayaks on a Rhode Island Canoe and Kayak Assn. (RICKA) outing.  I was pleased to see both of these groups, as well as another group of 5 kayaks, take the necessary precautions to prevent the seals from being scared away. By staying close to the west shore, the kayakers paddling on the bay left the seals undisturbed for all the Sunday afternoon seal watchers to observe. The kayak groups all beached in the back and walked around to view the seals from shore; I was more than happy to share the spotting scope with the smart and courteous kayakers who visited Rome Point today.  After they left Rome Point, the RICKA group paddled around the north end of Fox Island and went south down the bay at least 300 yards outside the seal rocks, the seals were not bothered by this at all.  

It was gratifying to see all of the kayakers going out of their way so as not to disturb the seals.  The seals surely appreciated getting a good rest after all of the past week's stormy weather; there were still seals hauled out 3 hours after low tide, making the most of the calm conditions.  Many thanks to the all of the kayakers who were out for a fall paddle on the bay today.  Because of your exemplary consideration and paddling know-how, at least 30 people out for a fall hike got to see good views of the seals on the rocks.  All kayaking enthusiasts who venture out on Narragansett Bay when seals are present should follow the excellent example set by the kayak flotilla today, they made everyone's day who came out to watch seals and the seals got the good rest they obviously needed.

I had to break out the bird book today to identify a pair of white-winged scoters, these ducks are not commonly seen at Rome Point.  I also observed that the seal on the right mound had an injured right front flipper; the flesh is gone from the middle of the flipper, exposing the long, bony claws. Consequently, this seal looks like it could use a manicure, but appears to be otherwise fat and healthy.

11/7/09 - 0 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind SW 5-10, Clear.  14:30
Today was a typical fall weekend with an afternoon low tide and calm winds, as the seals were scared away by a boat that was idling around the haul-out rocks when I arrived.  I observed 10 to 15 seals swimming around and spy-hopping; the boat stayed for 1/2 hour right during the time when the seals would normally haul out.  There was some active porpoising behavior to be seen around 14:20, then the number of seals in the area diminished and it became clear that the seals were not going to be making an appearance on the rocks today.  

11/1/09 - 47 seals hauled-out; 50 degrees, wind NW 5-15, Partly cloudy then clearing.  11:00
1 seal on far rock for 48 total.  10 seals spooked at 11:30 for no apparent reason, the seals in the cluster and on the flat rock did not move.  The wind calmed down by noon and so did the seals, turned out to be a fine day for seal watching with good light for clear viewing through the scope.  We were experimenting with our new Sony "Webbie" Hi Definition mini video camera and we shot the best quality video by far that we have ever taken through the scope; I believe Romepointseals.org is an early-adopter pioneer of "Webbie-Scoping".  We have some other obligations that may preclude us from adding video to this website until after the Holiday season, but when we finally post some video here, it's going to be good!

When we played back today's video on our TV I was amazed by the quality and clarity of the image at magnifications of 35x to 55x..  We are going to take some great nature video in the future using this technique; today the stars of our show did not do much except lounge around lazily, but when we get video of active seal behavior and post it here I know it will be a very entertaining addition to the website.   I was never too interested in nature still photography, as I always felt like messing with a camera distracted me from observing the wildlife as carefully as I like. However, taking Hi Def video thru the scope is a transformational upgrade; I noticed subtle behavior right away when I played back the video that I did not observe while I was shooting the video.

I have a feeling that while today was a rather ordinary seal watch, it was a day I will remember for a long time.  This new video technology is going to take our wildlife watching, as well as this website, to a completely new level.  Time will tell where we go with the nature video, but I know a paradigm shift when I see one; using a $200 camera and getting these results the first time out opens up a whole new realm for amateur nature videography.  I have not found anything like the short clips we took today anywhere on the web; there are tons of domestic animal clips and some professional footage, but virtually no amateur wildlife video that approaches what we shot today in terms of quality.  We managed to shoot high definition 1080 30P video, in good focus at high magnification on a distant subject, with less than $1500 of equipment after 5 minutes of practice.  That was never possible before these new mini Hi Def cameras came out; who knows what amazing animal antics we will have captured on video by this time next year.  Time to make plans for a Yellowstone trip, meanwhile, we are looking forward to practicing our Webbie-scoping skills during this winter's seal watching season.

10/30/09 - 45 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind SE 5-10, Partly cloudy then clearing.  10:30
First seal walk for Fall 2009.  All adult harbor seals, some perched on the high rocks where the immature seals will haul out later in the season.  Astronomical high tide today, noticed many dead and dying sea stars (starfish) on the beach.  Not much company today, only three other visitors and a chatty Northern Flicker.  I recognized a few of the seals, most notable Linebelly who was back on station on the pointy rock.  Looks like old Linebelly has has packed on a few pounds; all of the seals looked healthy and well-fed.  15 seals spooked at 11:30 for no apparent reason.  The entire group was chased from the haul-out rocks at 12:25 by a lone kayaker, no seals came back.  These nice fall days bring out the last of the recreational boaters and kayakers; soon enough, the cold weather will keep all but the most avid mariners at the dock, leaving the seals undisturbed on most winter days.


2008-2009 Season  


5/6/09 - 37 seals hauled-out; 60 degrees, wind N 5-10, Partly cloudy then clearing.  12:00
Last seal walk for Spring 2009.  Mostly immature seals with a few yearlings and just a couple of big adults hanging around.  I watched a flock of over 200 gulls feeding on bait fish off the East point of Fox Island; in short order some sport fishermen showed up in a boat and caught a decent-sized striped bass. That's my cue to switch to spring and summer activities, signifying the end of our seal watching season until October.  What a season it was, featuring more seals than ever before and all of our new and old seal watching friends to share in the fun.  Another Season of the Seals has passed, leaving us older, wiser, and grateful for the privilege of sharing the wonders of nature with our families and friends.  

5/3/09 - 45 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind S 5-10, cloudy.  10:15
Spotted a young seal with a Purple-ish/Pink (fuscia?) tag on it's tail flipper, this seal must have been captured, rehabilitated, and released.  I contacted Mystic Aquarium to ask if it was one of their seals, but they advised me that they used yellow tags this year and other colors in previous years but no fuscia tags.  So it is a mystery for now where this seal came from; I did not have the camera along to get a photo.

4/18/09 - 67 seals hauled-out; 60 degrees, wind W 5-10, then 5, clear.  10:00
Seals arrived late in the tide, only 50 out at 9:00 low tide.  Seals were active with some splashing and porpoising.  One swimming seal grabbed another seal by the tail flipper and pulled it off of a rock; the much larger seal then took over the newly vacated rock.  This tail biting behavior is new, before this year I have never seen seals bite other seals tails except when both seals were on a rock and fighting head-to-tail.  This is the third time this season I have seen a swimming seal chomp on a resting seal's tail flipper.  Maybe there is one rogue seal that does this, or perhaps several seals have adopted this new fighting tactic. 

4/14/09 - 66 seals hauled-out; 50 degrees, wind S/SE 10, cloudy.  15:45
Mostly young seals today, no seals south of pointy rock.  Interesting herring gull interaction with seals, the gull swooped down and touched two hauled out seals with it's feet.  Sort of a touch-and-go landing.  Both seals snapped at the gull; I have never seen this behavior by a gull before.

4/13/09 - 125 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind W 10-15, then 5, clear.  14:45
There was a young seal with netting tangled around it's upper torso on the right side of tall rocks today.  A seal I have been seeing with a "necklace" scar from a previous net entanglement was also visible.  Hopefully, the netting will rot away quickly, freeing the entangled youngster; this seal should be able to survive OK, but it is a fair amount of net to be dragging around.  At least it managed to tear free of the main net; entanglement with fishing nets is a primary cause of premature mortality for harbor seals.  I have read one estimate that stated that about 1000 western Atlantic harbor seals are killed each year due to various interactions with gill nets, trawl nets, and aquaculture equipment.

The seal numbers are holding up well for this late in April, with many juvenile seals still present.  Water temperature is about 42 degrees, if the sun keeps shining, the water will warm up quickly and the spring seal migration will soon begin.

4/10/09 - about 120 seals hauled-out; 55 degrees, wind SE 5 to10-15, clear.  12:25
Before I could set up for a count, the seals were spooked by a lobster boat hauling up two pots north of the white rock.  I am not sure where these lobster pots came from, they looked like "ghost gear" that had been in the water all winter; totally full of seaweed, mud and debris.  About 20 seals stayed on the flat rock and right mound, all the other seals took a swim.  Some seals returned to the rocks, there were 55 hauled out by 13:20 and 65 hauled out at 14:10.  A fair number of seal watchers were around due to Good Friday, so it was good that there were some seals for all to enjoy.

4/9/09 - 123 seals hauled-out; 5 on far rocks, 60 degrees, wind SW 10-15, clear Full Moon. 14:20
Still a lot of seals around, many juvenile seals on tall rocks.

3/28/09 - 128 seals hauled-out; 5 on far rocks, 50 degrees, wind SE 5 to calm to 10, clear.  12:30
When I arrived at Rome Point, I saw a couple of people on the beach wearing dry suits; it turned out to be Joe Sherlock and some guides from EMS.  They beached at the point for some training and to see the seals; I was happy to give the group from Burlington, VT a good look with an opportunity to take some pictures through the scope.  They will have some good keepsake photos to take back to Vermont and the seals were left undisturbed as a result of Joe's knowledge and professionalism.  If I was going on a guided paddle on the bay, EMS would be my first choice.   EMS Kayak

Seals spooked at 12:55 by kayaks, the three kayaks stayed far from the rocks, but the seals were scared anyway.  All but 8 seals left the rocks, but by 13:30 60 seals had returned to the haul-out.  5 seals at Greene point at 14:00.  At 15:00, another kayak paddled through the area.  This paddler stayed close to shore, doing everything he could not to scare the seals, but about 20 seals spooked, leaving 35 seals hauled-out.  At 15:50 a final lone kayak approached the rocks; this boat chased the remaining seals away and no seals returned.

Today was a classic illustration of how the seals are disturbed by human activity on a nice spring day.  First you had Joe and his group, they did everything right and left the seals undisturbed for everyone to see. However, Joe is a first-class pro guide and it would be unrealistic to expect everyone to have his level of expertise.  Next, there was a group of three kayaks, who were definitely aware of the seals and who made a good, but unsuccessful, effort not to disturb them. This group would have done better to stay close to the shore to try to sneak past the seals, but you can't expect people to have the benefit of over 300 seal observations as I have.  The next lone kayaker stayed close to shore and even then, he spooked about 20 seals; another A for effort.  Finally, you had the last kayaker behaving badly and approaching the haul-out rocks; this fellow put an end to the seal watching for the day.  We were fortunate that the seals stayed around for as long as they did with all the activity on the bay, there were many happy seal watchers out today enjoying a fine spring day on the bay.

I have been doing a lot of seal observation lately, but the time has come for me attend to professional obligations.  It will be several weeks before I return to Rome Point, I am always away this time of year for a few weeks during prime time for seal watching.  With luck, there will still be large numbers of seals around through the next full moon on April 9; as that full moon wanes, I know the number of seals at Rome Point will surely decline as they embark on their northward migration.  

3/27/09 - 100 seals hauled-out; 6 on far rocks, 50 degrees, wind NE 5 to calm to SE 10, clear. 13:30
Mostly adult seals, no juveniles on high rocks.  There was work going on at Fox Island, including a pile driver in action; perhaps the constant hammering kept the young seals away.  123 seals at 14:30 plus 3 on far rocks for 127 seals total, pretty good seal watch today.  Most seals on the center rocks spooked at 14:55, possibly due to a dog on the shore.  The dog was not barking, just running around.  I was surprised that the dog scared the seals, but the dog's arrival and the seals departure was too closely connected to be mere coincidence.  60 seals stayed on the rocks, I left at 16:00 when a stiff, cool breeze kicked up out of the southeast.

3/26/09 - about 100 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind S-SW calm to 10, cloudy, new moon. 11:30
Seals were spooked by a single kayak at 11:30 before I had a chance to set up for an accurate count.  The kayaker stayed in the area for about 1/2 hour; while he tried to keep his distance, he was still to close for comfort for all but about 6 seals.  Most seals left, as many as 40 returned by 12:45. Then the wind picked up out of the south.  The wind motivated the big adult seals on the flat rock to leave; they had never settled down after they were chased away the first time. Some juvenile seals stayed high and dry the entire time I was there.  This season, you can always count on the young seals to either come early or stick around later, so there are always at least a few seals to observe.  Most of the afternoon there were about 30 seals hauled-out, plus 3 late arrivals at Greene Point.

3/25/09 - 168 seals hauled-out; 45 degrees, wind N-NE 10 to calm, clear. 12:45
6 seals on far rock for 174 seals total today.  I watched the herd increase from 68 at 11:00 to 168 at 12:45.  This was an amazing seal watch today, as good as it gets except for the chilly wind, which calmed down later in the afternoon.  There were a fair number of seal watchers out for a weekday afternoon, including an environmental studies class from Tollgate High School.  The seals stayed active most of the time, significant numbers of seals spooked at least 4 different times for no apparent reason.  They did not leave the area after they spooked, just went for a swim then most hauled-out again; this resulted in a lot of territorial feuding and vocalizing.  The seals stayed late into the flood tide, when I left at 15:30, there were still about 100 seals hauled-out, plus 4 late arrivals at Greene Point.  Anyone who made it out to see the seals today was very fortunate indeed.

3/22/09 - 80 seals hauled-out; 48 degrees, wind SW 5-10, clear. 14:14
6 seals on far rock and 4 at Greene Point for 90 seals total today.  There were probably more seals earlier in the tide.  The seals stayed late into the rising tide with half a dozen holdouts remaining to provide good views for late arriving seal watchers.  When we left at 15:30 there were still a few seal hauled out 3 1/2 hours after low tide.  No boats or kayaks around to scare the seals today; one lone kayaker took special care to stay close to shore as he passed, leaving the seals undisturbed.  This was good to see after the kayakers chased the seals away yesterday.

3/21/09 - 100 seals hauled-out; 42 degrees, wind N 5-10, clear. 12:00
Seals were late to arrive at the rocks today, at low tide (11:00) there were only 50 seals hauled-out.  6 seals on far rock and 2 at Greene Point for 108 seals total.  Most of the late arrivals were large adult seals, there was a fair amount of fighting over territory on the flat rock.  Linebelly was on the pointy rock.  A large seal with a "necklace" scar was observed; I wonder if this is the seal I spotted on 3-8 with the netting tangled around its' neck.  If so, the netting is gone and the wound appears to be healing nicely.

Seals spooked by kayaks at 12:40; the kayakers paddled right up to the rocks and were not satisfied until they managed to chase off all 100 seals.  The kayaks remained in the area for a long time, so no seals returned to the rocks.  The large Saturday afternoon seal watching contingent on shore was not pleased to be informed that the seals had been scared away.  This is the time of the year when boating activity on the bay increases, so seal watchers are advised to come out  two hours before low tide on weekends to stay one step ahead of the boaters and paddlers.  

I took a good video of the seals being scared away today; I'm not sure what to do with the video...yet.  Depending on how much of a problem this becomes for the rest of the season, I might try to promote some awareness among the kayaking public that they are required by law to leave the seals undisturbed.  We are kayakers and would prefer that our most favored pastime would not be maligned because of the actions of a few.  Kayakers with the equipment and skill to be on the bay at this time of year really should know better than to intentionally scare protected marine mammals.

3/18/09 - 90 seals hauled-out; 35 degrees, wind S 5-10, clear. 7:55
6 seals on far rock and 4 at Greene Point for 100 seals total hauled out this morning.  I suspected more seals were hauling out on the morning low tide, this observation proved my theory correct.  Ever since the wind shifted to the South on 3-14, the primary rest cycle probably has shifted to the morning tide.

At 9:40, the seals were spooked by a power boat; about 60 - 70 seals were chased off the rocks.  The boat responsible was operated by people who should have known better; I videotaped this unfortunate occurance.  Someone in the bow of the boat was taking video as well, I wonder if it occurred to them that all the seals that were agitated and jumping into the water were doing so because the seals were frightened by their boat.  As noted on the Boats and Kayaks page, I always give everyone the benefit of the doubt the first time they disturb the seals.  This is the first time I observed this boat harassing the seals; a repeat performance will be cause for action on my part.  The video I took does not reflect well on the boat operator and would be embarrassing if I posted it for everyone to see.

After the seals were spooked, only 9 seals remained on the rocks.  I went on a bike ride and when I returned about 30 seals were hauled out again at 1040.

3/17/09 - 18 seals hauled-out; 40 degrees, wind S-15 decreasing to 5, clear.  14:40
9 adults on flat rock while rock was pretty deeply submerged, as wind and waves built these seals were washed off the flat rock and never did return to that location.  First time I ever saw that happen so early on an ebb tide.  After those seals left, the number of seals remaining gradually dropped from 9 to 3 by 1615.  One juvenile seal went to all the trouble of climbing way up the highest rock, perched there for 5 minutes, then slid down and departed.  Seals are just not into hauling out today, low tide is not until 1800 and not many seals in the area.  I wonder if they majority of the herd has been hauling out on the early morning low tide; I think I'll come out early tomorrow morning to check this out.

The past 2 days there have been 50 to 100 herring gulls floating in a flock south on the ebb tide into the south wind.  These gulls are apparently eating something very small in the water.  They are pecking away at the surface of the water like chickens after chicken feed; but whatever they are eating it is too small for me to see, even with the scope zoomed in.  The gulls float most of the way to Greene Point then fly back up the bay for another feeding drift.  This is something else I have never seen before here; even with not many seals out today, it was interesting to observe some subtle behaviors I have not previously witnessed.

3/15/09 - 37 seals hauled-out; 48 degrees, wind S-10, hazy high clouds.  14:15
Just like yesterday, only with a few more adult seals hauled-out.  Swans did not seem to bother the young seals today, they stayed on the tall rocks for everyone to see.  The light was not very good for the scope, there was haze on the water which made the optical distortion more noticeable.  We came late and stayed for a couple of hours; the parking area was as full as I have ever seen it, with cars lining both sides of the road.  No so many people at the point, the wind was chilly and most folks, who do not know to walk on the woods path for shelter from the cold breeze, were not likely to trek all the way up the beach.

Before we came to Rome Point, we visited Trustom Pond.  I have been doing a lot of seal watching lately, so I like to mix it up a bit with a walk at another location.  We saw some marsh hawks and the first great blue heron we have seen in RI for a while.  Our best sighting was a coyote that made a brief appearance in a meadow across the pond from Otter Point; my wife and I both got a good look at the wily one through the scope.  It is always a treat to see the wary coyote, especially when the coyote does not know it is being watched.  A rare sight at mid-day; definitely the high point of our nature hikes today.

3/14/09 - 30 seals hauled-out; 37 degrees, wind S-10 to 15, hazy high clouds.  13:15
The young seals saved the day, I only spotted two mature adult seals on the rocks today.  I believe the strong south wind had a lot to do with the lower number of seals.  Fortunately, the cute yearling seals on the tall rocks and twins were in fine form, with good light to zoom in for close-up viewing.  At 1325, the swans that have been hanging around lately managed to scare 24 of the seals off the high rocks; I see now that when the tide is still pretty high, the swans appear more menacing to the juvenile seals that would be perched high above the swans when the tide is lower.  I am not a big fan of the invasive mute swans under the best circumstances; the fact that they spoiled the best of the seal watching today is not improving their standing with me.

I stayed a long time, because many nice families were out for a Saturday hike and I was enjoying the socializing.  10 to 15 seals were hauled out all afternoon, a kayaker who did not approach too close only spooked a few seals.  Most seals were on the center "cluster" which is not the best view, but all the seal watchers enjoyed themselves nonetheless.  Early on I was able to tell there would not be a large number of seals today; when they swim up to the rocks, take a look, then swim away it is a telltale sign that something is not right for many seals on a particular day.

Today reminded me of some fishing charters I have been on in recent years.  I go to Lake Ontario salmon fishing and always check the fishing report before I go.  The past two years, fishing on the lake has frequently been great, but on the specific days when I booked my charter fussy weather and finicky fish have conspired to make the fishing fair to good at best...not great.  So it was with seal watching today; great seal watches all week (as reported on this site), then on a Saturday with lots of people around, the seal watch was maybe a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10.  However, up on Lake Ontario I go with a fine captain and mate whose company I truly enjoy so I always have a fun trip, regardless of our fishing luck.  Today at Rome Point, it was all the nice people who made my day; I hope if they were expecting more seals they were not disappointed; hopefully, some of the many friendly folks who kept me company today will have the good fortune to see more seals on a better day in the future.

3/13/09 - 144 seals hauled-out; plus 9 on far rocks and 3 at Greene Point for 156 total, 32 degrees, wind N-5 to calm, clear.  13:30
I arrived at 1220 and had a very entertaining seal watch by myself for the first hour.  I managed to get some video of active seals which will show up on this website someday.  Seals were active which means: splashing, jumping, vocalizing, and fighting.  Excellent seal watching, with calm wind for comfort.

Right after my count at 1330, the wind came up again out of the south at 5 to 10, later 15 knots.  At 1338 about 35 seals spooked from the cluster and pointy rock areas, lowering the count at 1345 to 108 seals.  I retreated to the shelter of the trees to escape the cold wind off the water.  Soon thereafter, a group of about 8 young women made their way up the beach.  They were from the Met charter school in Providence, out on an adventure with their adviser Paige.  I invited them to check out the seals through the scope; I think they were pleasantly surprised by the number of seals present and how close the seals looked through a spotting scope. I also think this group was not-so-pleasantly surprised by how cold the sea breeze can be in mid-March; next time girls, better bundle up with hats and gloves for a winter walk along the shore of Narragansett Bay.  They were a nice group of kids, I hope their cold walk back down the beach will not deter them from pursuing future nature explorations.

As the cold south wind blew harder, the number of seals decreased; by 1445, 52 seals were hauled out, plus 10 on far rocks and 5 at Greene Point.

3/12/09 - 155 seals hauled-out; plus 11 on far rocks for 166 total, 35 degrees, wind NW-10, clear.  Full moon last night.  12:55
Seals spooked at 1320, seals on left side and cluster all went for a swim for no apparent reason.  There was a couple on the beach with a dog, but the dog was well-behaved and quiet on the leash; I don't think they scared the seals.  All of a sudden the sub-adult seals jumped in the water with no advance signs of being disturbed, all the commotion triggered a flight response in some of the other seals.  The adult seals on the right side and the cluster were not scared and barely reacted at all.  About 60 seals stayed on the rocks, and another 70 hauled out over the next 1 1/2 hour for 130 seals out at 1455.  

I set up the camera for video, hoping for a repeat of the seal wars of last Tuesday after they were spooked.  Turns out I needed the practice setting up for taking video and by the time I was set up the seals had settled down.  They never did carry on like they did two days ago, I believe many of the juvenile seals left the area after they were spooked, so the there was not so much difficulty in finding a good rock.  Also, tide was lower today than on Tuesday when they spooked, so more square footage was available for the seals that returned.

Very few visitors until about 1500, when two large groups arrived.  One was North Kingston High School Environmental Club, the other was a URI wetlands study group.  They got to see lots of seals hauled out, but not much interesting behavior.  Some other people came a bit later, several of them managed to get a good keepsake photo thru the scope.  It is nice that on weekdays with fewer people around, I can give folks the opportunity to try their hand at "digi-scoping". When there are lots of people, I have to keep the line at the scope moving so everyone gets a nice long look; there is no time to indulge in photography experiments when 10 people are patiently waiting to view the seals thru the scope.

While watching seals from the woods, a kid rode up on a motocross dirt bike.  He took our measure and departed hastily, in 8 years I have never seen a motorcycle here before.  Not permitted of course, but what can you do; if you give someone a hard time but do not ID them, they might get mad and are then free to come back later to tear up the area.  I hope this was an isolated incident, the Rome Point trails are not appropriate for motorcycles

3/10/09 - About 150 seals hauled-out, 35 degrees, wind N-5, gradually decreasing to calm, then S5-10; clear, hazy.  11:00
Spectacular Seal Watch!  When I arrived at 1100 there were numerous seals hauled-out on all the rocks, including juvenile seals on the tall rocks and the white rock.  Before I could get the scope set up for a count, almost the whole herd spooked for no apparent reason.  I heard splashing and in 10 seconds there were 100+ heads bobbing in the water, spy hopping and looking around.  Only about 20 seals did not take the plunge.  I watched as the whole group came back to the rocks and hauled out over the next 1 1/2 hours; it was one of the best seal observations ever.

One of the first seals back on the rocks was Linebelly, who was quick to reclaim the prized pointy rock.  With low tide still almost 3 hours away, many rocks were still partially submerged, so the competition for 150 seals to get a good rock was the most fierce and feisty that I have ever witnessed.  Some of the younger seals who could not get back on the tall rocks at this tide stage needed a new resting spot and tried to hold the high ground on the better flat rocks; these seals were easily dispatched to their rightful places by dominant adults.   More interesting were the evenly-matched adults squaring off and doing battle. As more seals returned, the fighting became more widespread and the growls and grunts gradually built to a climactic crescendo.  Some large adults fought repeatedly, with seals that were defeated in round one returning for a re-match over the same rock; sometimes the ultimate outcome would change as a result of the second or even third skirmish.  This went on for an hour and 15 minutes until the seals finally settled down.

As luck would have it, during this time I received a phone call from a client that I had to deal with.  I had been watching the seals mostly by myself with only one other lucky visitor stopping by see the show the seals were putting on.  While I was handling the business call, I was pleased to see my long-time seal watching friend Polly and her dog Charley walking down the road to the point.  I whispered to Polly that the seals were out in record numbers and to watch them through the scope while I took care of business.  I was happy that Polly had a chance to share the seal watch today; she is a Rome Point regular who is always quick with a heartfelt hello and a warm smile; she has seen the seals many times, but today was special and I know she appreciated her fortunate timing. We did not have a chance to chat as she left, so Polly: how about those seals today...pretty amazing...we'll sure have something to talk about the next time our paths cross!

At 1230 I counted 178 seals on the Seven Sisters, plus 12 on the far rocks and 7 at Greene Point for a new record of 197 Seals, demolishing my previous record count of 184 seals.  By 1330 there were 150 seals left and the wind was perfectly calm.  At 1420, about 100 of the remaining seals departed all at once within 5 minutes of a steady breeze kicking up from the south.  By 1430, only 6 seals were left on the rocks at Rome Point, anyone arriving then would have no clue of the awe-inspiring display of marine mammal behavior that I was privileged to witness a just few hours earlier.

3/8/09 - 125 seals hauled-out, 55 degrees, wind NW-20, gradually decreasing to calm; clear, cloudy later.  11:00
Especially nice seal watch today, I stayed until 1630.  Lots of seals, they stayed late as well.  The wind calmed down and the waves diminished, so the seals were able to stay on the submerged rocks until the last minute when their buoyancy finally lifted them off the rocks.  Most seals took advantage of this and remained hauled out as long as they could; there were still a few seals remaining four hours after low tide.  Seals were really settled today, very little activity or scanning behavior, just sleeping, basking harbor seals.  Lots of friendly seal watchers around to keep me company, a first-class seal watch today in every way.

This time of year on sunny days, the quality of the lighting for telescope observation is relatively poor for a long time around mid-day.  The higher angle of the sun in the spring causes increased optical distortion, reducing the magnification I can dial in on the scope and still get a clearly focused subject when looking across water at this distance.  A cloud bank hung in the sky just to the south of the sun most of the afternoon; I was silently hoping for the clouds to cover the sun all day for the sake of better optical conditions.  Finally around 3:00 the clouds moved in and I was able to zoom in and check out the seals at 60x magnification. When I did, I was able to see that a large seal on the right side of the flat rock has a net entanglement problem.  This seal has a piece of green plastic or nylon netting wrapped completely around it's neck like a necklace.  The net looks like fine mesh as would be used for smaller fish such as herring.  The net cord is constricting the seal's neck noticeably, but I do not think is has cut through the skin...yet.  It will be interesting to observe how this poor seal makes out over the upcoming weeks; unfortunately, there is no practical way to perform a rescue on a seal with this predicament unless the animal becomes ill and beaches itself at a place where it can be captured.

3/7/09 - About 90 seals hauled-out, 60 degrees, wind SW-10, clear.  10:45
Estimated of 90 seals is a guess from looking at the rocks from the narrow spot on the peninsula with binoculars.  By the time we walked the rest of the way to the point, the seals had been spooked off the rocks by a lone kayaker, only 2 seals stayed hauled out, many seals still swimming in the area.  The kayaker did not hang around and by 1115, 16 seals were back on the rocks.  Seals continued to return to the rocks over the next two hours, by the time we left at 1300, there were 55 seals hauled out plus 2 at Greene Point.  The large seals that rest on the "flat rock" were the last to return, I wonder where they went and what they did for the 1 1/2 hour they were away from the rocks.  

I'm glad the seals returned today after they were spooked, because the warm weather brought out many intrepid seal watchers who braved the sloppy trail.  This included a small group of fifth-graders from Jamestown on an outing with their teacher.  This nice group was not on a school-sponsored field trip, just out on a Saturday enjoying the nice day and the seals.  I have seen this repeatedly over the years at Rome Point; teachers sharing personal time with their students by including them in an out-of-school adventure.  These days, teachers sure are maligned in the local media, but in my opinion one good teacher contributes more to society than 10 loud-talking, tax whiners.  Hooray for Teachers....Three Cheers for Good Parents....Support Public Education!  We are not teachers and have no children in public schools; we just believe public education is about the most worthwhile investment our society can make in everyone's future.  

2/28/09 - 75 seals hauled-out, 40 degrees, wind N-10, cloudy.  15:20
5 seals on far rock for 79 seals total today.  Seals were fussy today with a lot of scanning, scratching, and yawning; they never settled down during the two hours we were there.  North wind probably made them skittish.  If the wind had been much stronger there probably would not have been many seals out today. We had a fine seal watch with many friendly folks to keep us company; the cloudy day made for good light to zoom the scope in for close, clear views.  

Our walk was briefly disturbed today by a most inconsiderate fellow out for a walk with his pit bull off the leash.  The dog approached my wife and I at the narrow point of the peninsula with menacing growls and did not respond to his owners stupidly shouted pseudo-commands.  He all but blamed my wife for his dog's actions, stating that the dog sensing her fear caused it's aggressive behavior.  When I suggested strongly that he should put a lease on his dog, he told me that I should be wearing a leash.  Not the right answer.  I advised him that if he did not leash his dog, I would contact the police on my cell phone immediately; with that, he thankfully departed post-haste down the beach away from the point.  He never did leash that dog though and if I see him again with that pit bull off the leash, there will be no discussion, just a phone call to North Kingstown authorities.

This was the third time in as many years that we have had problems on a hike with irresponsible owners of aggressive dogs who do not control their animals. We have also observed half-a-dozen less troublesome dog incidents over that time period; I must admit, my tolerance for dog owners who do not manage their pets properly is at an all time low.  That said, 99% of people with dogs are no problem whatsoever whether the dog is leashed or not; I am certainly not Mr. Animal Control and I am fond of dogs in general.  Sometimes dogs that are normally well-behaved off the leash get into trouble when they encounter small children, other animals, unexpected food, or bicycles; in my experience these situations develop very rapidly and are resolved just as quickly with no real harm done. Incidents with aggressive dogs are another matter and I'm learning that the owners of problem dogs are not the sort of folks who are amenable to reasonable conflict resolution.  My handling of bad dog situations in the future will be a more proactive approach, with a lower threshold for getting the proper authorities involved.  That could have been a bad scene today if my grand-daughter had been walking with us and no family out for a walk at the beach should have to tolerate that sort of nonsense.

Rome Point is a great place for dogs and families alike; some days, it's like a dog show out there!  We often enjoy talking to the people we meet about their dogs and I have learned a lot about various breeds. Today we met a nice lady with a beautiful Portuguese Water Dog that was very well trained on the leash. She told us that the breed got their name from the old country where they were used to carry fishermen's net lines between boats to set up to trawl.  Also that they are a working breed that needs a job to be happy; her dog "Anchor" was assigned as a mate on her husband's boat to fulfill it's dutiful instincts.  Over the years at Rome Point I have got to know some of the local pooch population by name, that is just another bonus pleasure of this wonderful place.  Because of  my work-related travel and our propensity for outdoor activities where dogs are best left at home, our household is a dog-free zone.  I love hanging out with my adopted four-legged friends at Rome Point; there are few relationships in life more satisfying than an animal companion. We saw both sides of the dog coin in stark contrast today; as with many things in life, sometimes a taste of the bad can inspire a heightened appreciation of the good.

2/22/09 - 70 seals hauled-out, 38 degrees, wind W-10, clear.  11:30
There were 5 seals on the far rock and 4 at Greene Point for 79 seals total today.  Mostly adult seals out at low tide, only a few juveniles.  The seals were fairly active for a dead low tide today with some fighting on the "flat rock" and on the "cluster".  Two seals put on a good show of "porpoising" (leaping completely out of the water repeatedly) about 15 minutes apart.  I could not stay very long due to other obligations; I left wishing that I could stay for several more hours on this most pleasant, sunny Sunday afternoon.

2/17/09 - 17 seals hauled-out, 35 degrees, wind N-NE 5-10, clear.  13:30
21 seals out when spooked by a kayaker at 1508; 3 yearling seals on tall rocks stayed despite the kayak coming very close.  Mostly the same young seals as yesterday with one big spotted adult.   A pretty good seal show for an off tide, about 40 people were at the point watching seals at 1415,  school's out.  11 seals hauled out by 1615; these were mostly adults that were coming in at the usual low tide time.  Not many seals around later, I don't think there will be lots of seals out by the low tide at 1845.  

2/16/09 - 32 seals hauled-out, 35 degrees, wind N-NE 5-10, clear.  14:00
An interesting day with low tide not until 1750.  I arrived at the beach at the end of the road at 1315 and observed about 25 seals hauled-out on the "high rocks" and "twins" from that distant vantage point.  These seals were high and dry and had already been there for awhile, even with low tide still 4 1/2 hours away. Mostly first and second year seals.  By the time I walked to the point there were 32 seals hauled-out at 1400. There were many happy seal watchers out today because this is a school vacation week, so we had lots of fun viewing the accommodating young seals.  I knew that on good, calm days some juvenile seals were hauling out long before the majority of the adult seals, but I rarely have the opportunity to come out so early in the ebb tide.  Low tide will be about 1845 tomorrow so I am planning another seal walk early in the ebb tide to see how many seals are out while the tide is still relatively high.  Tomorrow will be the last good seal day this week with sour weather and poorly-timed low tides forecast.

The wind today was unusual for February as it was steady out of the N-NE; nonetheless, it was a nice, but chilly seal watch day.  Wind with an easterly component usually spells bad weather on the New England coast in winter, but not today.  There have been some mute swans hanging around lately and today I believe the swans spooked the juvenile seals twice, once at 1510 and again at 1545.  By 1545 the mature seals were starting to arrive in force; the big seals will not be deterred by mere swans.  Sure enough by 1630 there were 40 seals hauled-out; very few juvenile seals were among the later arrivals.

With the easterly wind I was able to hear the seals exceptionally well today and I heard the loud slapping sound they make when their tails splash against the surface of the water.  It reminded me of how beavers slap their tails as a warning to their brood and to scare off intruders; the sound was similar.  I doubt that the seal's tail slaps serve the same purpose as a beaver's tail slaps, but I do wonder if the sound of the seal's tail splash is some form of communication that has meaning to other seals.
  

2/14/09 - 60 seals hauled-out, 55 degrees, wind W 5-15, clear.  14:30
By 1500 there were 75 seals hauled out plus 8 on far rock for total of 83 seals today.  Seals spooked for no apparent reason at 1505, 30 seals stayed, some came back for 53 seals at 1545.  A nice comfortable day with many seal watchers out and about.  

I had mentioned to a family last weekend that I saw an inexpensive Simmons spotting scope at Wal-Mart for about $60.  They must have enjoyed seal watching, because they came out today to try out their new Simmons scope.  They did not mention this to me until they were leaving so I did not have a chance to look thru their scope for a comparison, but I'll bet it's just fine for viewing at this distance when the lighting is decent.  These cheap Simmons scopes have a straight-thru 20x to 60x variable zoom eyepiece, there are probably some optical artifacts that I would notice readily, but for casual observers it is likely a good setup for backyard bird watching and general wildlife observation.  I really need an angled eyepiece for ease in viewing my favorite peregrine falcons and other flying raptors as well as higher quality optics for unfavorable lighting situations, but a cheap scope is surely much better than no scope.  Fun for the whole family, I hope they enjoy their new toy for years to come.


2/11/09 - 
76 seals hauled-out, 55 degrees, wind SW calm-5, clear to partly cloudy  13:15
Trail conditions much better today.
 86 seals hauled out plus 7 on far rock plus 5 at Greene Point = 98 seals total today at 1430.

2/8/09 - 62 seals hauled-out, 55 degrees, wind WSW 10-20 shifting to W 10-20, partly cloudy, then clearing.  11:30
The trail conditions were very bad today early, wet ice made for slow going.  The trail improved greatly by the time we made our way back to the car, once the ice softened up you could get better traction.  Upon arrival at the point we had some wild weather with lots of wind, a rain shower, and even a partial rainbow right over Quonset Point. Then the sun came out and we had our lunch with coats off in the warm mid-day sun - very nice!  1300 68 seals hauled-out, 2 off Fox Island and 4 on far rock for 74 seals total.  Lots of people braved the icy trail, the parking lot was full and many families made it out to the point to see seals.  4 juvenile seals on White rock. Big seal fight on the cluster that lasted about 10 minutes about 1315, four or five seals going at it hot and heavy.

Took a trip down to Ninigret Park after the seal walk to check out the new kayak launch at the east entrance of the National Wildlife Refuge.  Kayak launch is looking good, this will allow access to the more remote area of Ninigret Pond without having to paddle so far.  We just stepped onto the trail when we spied a Bald Eagle soaring, looked like a third-year bird with the white head and tail plumage almost complete. Walked out to Grassy Point, had several close encounters with a beauty of a female Marsh Hawk, her reddish plumage was nicely illuminated by the setting sun.

The past two days have been a respite from what has been a relatively harsh winter, so we extended our seal watch outing on both days with hikes in the late afternoon.  With bonus sightings of an otter, an eagle, and hawks as our reward, we felt gratified to enjoy the comfortable weekend weather to the fullest extent. Every once in a while the weather, our schedules, and the natural world all intersect at a nexus that transcends the everyday Rhode Island experience; this weekend was definitely one of those times. 

2/7/09 - 82 seals hauled-out, 42 degrees, wind SW 10, partly cloudy.  11:20
5 seals on far rock, 2 swimming and 1 at Greene Point for 90 seals total.  After the seal walk and lunch we headed down to Trustom Pond, where we had an excellent otter sighting, plus a Goshawk and a pair of Marsh Hawks.  We watched the otter patrol along the edge of the shoreline for a good 300 yards, cavorting across the ice. We were standing at the aptly-named Otter Point in late afternoon when we saw the otter; I had just remarked that I thought we might see something good when the big weasel appeared.  It was especially interesting to see a dry otter for a change as it showed off the fur coat to be a striking reddish-brown color. All of the otters I have seen previously have been wet, just like seals the colors of the otter's fur come out when these animals are dry.
   
1/25/09 - 86 seals hauled-out, 24 degrees, wind SW 5, clear.  13:00
5 seals on far rock , 4 at Greene Point for 95 seals total.  Trail is getting more icy.  One big seal came in to slanted rock and forced a smaller seal off the rock after a big tussle.  I am really starting to notice seals taking possession of favorite territories; Linebelly was on pointed rock and I believe I am seeing Blubber from 1/10 on the same rocks repeatedly.  The two juvenile seals that were in close on Friday were hanging out on the right "twin" yesterday and today.

One seal swan past close to shore, circled back around inside of haul-out and swam past again about 50 feet from shore.  This seal had very unusual markings and I am 95% certain it was an adult Harp seal.  Noted pronounced dark mask on face and characteristic dark harp-shaped marking on back and sides.  It was swimming but was visible on the surface for quite a while so I got a real good look.  A special treat on a cold January day.

1/24/09 - 92 seals hauled-out, 30 degrees, 20 degrees later, wind W-NW 10, increasing to NW 20 later, cloudy to clear later.  11:55
Some activity today with seals swimming and porpoising, waves splashing on rocks had seals moving around more than usual.  3 on far rock for 95 total.
Trail is starting to ice up on road and at narrow part of peninsula, parking lot is a skating rink.  Most of trail thru woods is in decent shape.  It was actually a better day for seals than I expected, but all of a sudden the wind shifted and the temperature plunged, so we bailed out early for a hot lunch.

1/23/09 - 160 seals hauled-out, 35 degrees, wind SW 5 to 10, partly cloudy.  11:45
There were also 6 seals on the far rock and 7 at Greene point for a total of 173 seals today.  
Two ladies with their dogs showed up at 1150 and the dogs started splashing and barking on the beach.  I watched the seals very closely and sure enough they started to spook gradually; it ended up about 120 seals spooked and 40 stayed on the rocks.  When there are lots of seals it seems they are more sensitive to disturbance on shore; it did surprise me that the seals spooked today, as the dogs were not that rowdy.  It started with just a few seals and the panic spread to most of the herd like a chain reaction.  I would usually say something to people who might disturb the seals, but I was caught off-guard today.  By 1230, about 50 seals came back and 90 seals were hauled-out.

Although I would never intentionally disturb the seals myself, when they are spooked and then return to the rocks it is a good opportunity to observe interesting behavior.  The big guys on the flat rock came back, but it took about 45 minutes for them to settle down; there were loud skirmishes and some aggressive biting until they sorted out their turf battles.  The warfare was resolved when one seal that was sideways on the front of the rock was finally shoved into the water, after that this group calmed down fast.  There was also a rogue seal cruising around the flat rock that bit 3 seals on the tail in quick succession, not hard bites but enough to get their attention and cause them to hoist their tails higher into the air.

I was so enthralled by the behavior I was observing on the flat rock that I did not notice that two yearling seals had hauled-out on a rock only about 60 feet from shore.  I was up in the woods to stay out of the wind so those seals did not detect my presence.  It is rare to see seals hauled-out so close to shore here, this was maybe about the fifth time I had seen seals this close to shore at Rome Point.  They stayed on that rock for at least two more hours, to the delight of the onlookers who made it out to watch seals today.  Through the scope they looked amazingly close and you could see every detail of their faces.  These two seals stayed on that rock even when people approached them, they also tolerated a couple of dogs in their vicinity.  I was astonished that they did not react at all to the nearby human activity; however, there were only a few people who walked up the shoreline and the dogs were quiet.  

1/21/09 - 40 seals hauled-out, 28 degrees, wind NW 10, clear.  10:50
I cross-country skied out to the point today, a nice work-out.  There was a different seal on the pointy rock today, this seal had a small wound on it's belly.  It could not get comfortable on the rock and kept scrunching around until it finally fell off the rock.  This seal climbed back on the pointy rock again after it fell off.

  
1/12/09 - 91 seals hauled-out, 25 degrees, wind NW 5 to 10, increasing to 15 later, clear.  12:30
WOW, what a day!.  Lots of activity in the bay, humans and seals were both busy.  Many juveniles on "tall rocks" and "twins".  Linebelly on pointy rock again.  Could not identify Blubber from Saturday.  8 juvenile seals on "white rock", a new record for this rock.  Up until last year, we never saw any seals on that rock.  Now on a spring tide (periodic astronomical high tide), young seals are are making their way up to this high perch. If they get spooked off there at low tide, it will be a high dive act; I'll bet they have not considered that scenario.  Photo below is seals on white rock today.
white rock 8  By 1310, 105 seals hauled-out, plus 2 on close-in rocks off Fox island.  A big flock of robins flew into the trees on the point.  Suddenly the past 2 days it's winter robins everywhere, at home, in the woods, at Rome Point.  I got a great look at a Cooper's hawk; I think this hawk is a resident here.  The hawk was flying out by the rocks, then landed in a tree 25 yards away; I had this bird in the scope up-close for about one minute before it moved on.  I have seen an accipiter hawk on the point often, but mostly fleeting glimpses; this sighting confirmed it is a Cooper's hawk and not a Sharp-shinned hawk.

The bay was a busy place today.  There were about 5 quahog boats in the back; four were raking clams but one boat had a dive flag atop the cabin. After while, I heard about 8 consecutive blasts from a loud klaxon and the sound of a diesel engine revving up.  Turned out that RIDEM was checking out the quahog diver, the horn sounding was a signal for the diver to surface.  He was diving alone and when he came up the DEM officers talked to him for half an hour; about what I have no clue.  All I know is you've got to be highly motivated (and slightly crazy) to go diving alone in January to harvest quahogs; hopefully, the bold, cold diver was not engaged in any illicit fishing activity.

A barge headed out of Quonset loaded with large sub-assemblies bound for the submarine base in Groton CT.  The two tugs towing the barge were pretty loud gunning their engines at times and the NW wind carried that sound down the bay.  Some of the seals were checking this out and at 1335 about 30 seals spooked off the "tall rocks", "twins", and "mounds".  Not sure if the towboats and barge caused this; they were over a mile away, maybe the sounds made the seals nervous.  Few of those seals returned, 70 seals left at 1350.

The R/V John H. Chafee was out for a trawl today between the bridge and the red house on Jamestown.  This research boat was commissioned in 2004 and was purchased using a grant secured by the late Senator.  The vessel is docked at the DEM Marine Fisheries Center at Fort Wetherill and is used to collect data for stock assessments, icthyoplankton surveys, and bay monitoring.  They better be careful trawling around out there this time of year or they might just net themselves a harbor seal!

On the way out I saw some waterfowl hunters in Bissel Cove, heard 3 shots.  Duck and goose hunting is permitted in this area until the season ends January 25 and I support legal and ethical hunting.  That said, I have seen hunters here who do not have a boat or a dog with them; I'm not sure how you retrieve waterfowl without either a dog or a boat.  Shooting birds without a reliable way to harvest them is outside the realm of ethical hunting and such behavior serves to diminish the reputation of hunters in general.  I'll be watching the hunters a little more closely for the next two weeks; I'm always glad when the waterfowl hunting season is over and the shotguns are silenced at Rome Point for the rest of the seal season.

1/10/09 - 90 seals hauled-out, 2 @ Greene Point, 30 degrees, wind N 5 to calm, clear to cloudy, storm front coming.  11:20
Best day so far this season, stayed 5 hours.  One adult seal had a tight collar-type ring around neck, looks like a net entanglement scar. Could not tell for sure if the netting was still there, but it looked to me like it was.  By 1150, 110 hauled-out + 10 on far rocks = 120 seals.  Lots of vocalization and skirmishes, no seals on "tall rocks" or "twins" made for close quarters.  One swimming seal came halfway out of the water to bite another seal in the nose; that caused a splashy fight in water.  Linebelly was on pointy rock again.

Trail was still icy, on the way in I walked down road to beach.  A lady slipped walking down the hill and as she caught herself her binoculars went flying.  She was not happy; her husband was carrying a scope, but I never saw them at the point.  I think the icy trail deterred a lot of people today.

One family from Lincoln, RI was not to be denied however, and they saw an amazing sight.  They were using the scope and their binocs when Mom asked me if I had names for any of the seals.  I told them about the Guardian who was hanging out in his usual spot on the left side of "flat rock" and how he would often aggressively fight off seals who intruded on his perceived territory.  Sure enough, not 10 seconds after I finished telling them this the Guardian attacked a seal on the left edge, knocking the trespasser off the rock with a growl and a big splash!  Everyone saw this and was amazed that I called that one so well, I was likewise quite amused.

I'm not too comfortable giving the seals I recognize names, that is a little too Disney for my style.  That said, there is some utility in attaching a name to a few seals for ease of reference.  The young gent who was looking thru the scope when the Guardian went off named the seal pictured below "Blubber"; I'll see if I can recognize Blubber again in the future.
Blubber  Some folks remarked that they saw kayaks back in the cove, so I was expecting to see the first seal-kayak interaction of the season.  After while, here comes four guys walking around the point decked out in dry-suit paddling gear.  I want to extend a hearty "fins-up" to Joe Sherlock and his kayak group from Eastern Mountain Sports EMS Kayak .  Thanks to Joe's first-class professionalism and consideration, at least 40 additional adults and kids on shore had a great seal watch today.  If Joe and his group had come around the point with 4 kayaks in today's calm conditions, it is 95% certain that all the seals would have spooked, ruining the seal watching for the rest of the day.  So Joe, if you read this, thanks again; you as well as any other paddlers are always welcome to join me on the point for as many close-up looks at the seals as you like thru my scope.   Hopefully, this is a good omen for the rest of the seal season, all kayakers should take their cue from pro guides like Joe and his group.  Outstanding!

Spotted the first 3 common golden eye ducks of the season today, also a ring neck duck.  Brant, red-breasted mergansers, herring gulls too.  There were a couple of duck hunters in Bissel Cove, I heard 4 shots but that did not bother the seals.  As the seals were leaving, some were porpoising and splashing; I was glad I stayed late to see the show.  
By the time I got home, snow was falling steadily.

1/9/09 - 15 seals hauled-out, 24 degrees, wind NW 10-15, clear.  11:20
Seals active, only 1 hauled-out when we arrived.  Swimmers were coming and going, it was pretty splashy out there.  Seals were concentrated in center area of rocks to stay out of wind and waves.  Path was very icy, road was bad, trail in woods was better.  I forgot how bad this road can get at times, I'll be sure to throw a pair of ski poles in the trunk for days like this.  I'm pretty sure-footed, but on one hike I fell 3 times when the ice-covered trail was wet from melting. Not that bad today, but this trail can be difficult when icy; if in doubt....bail out.

1/2/2009 - Happy New Year - 96 seals hauled-out, 6 swimming, 3@ Greene Point, 35 degrees, wind SW 10, cloudy.  15:10
Seals very active, we watched them haul out today.  12 juveniles high and dry when we arrived @ 1320 on "tall rocks".  3 on far rock.
Not many people around today.

12/30/08 - 10 seals hauled-out, 35 degrees, wind NW 30 decreasing to 20, clear.  14:00
Strong northwest wind, but enough activity to make this seal watch worthwhile.  Some swimmers, 1 seal porpoising.  Weather for the next couple of days looks poor, tough luck for the rest of Christmas vacation week.

12/29/08 - 95 seals hauled-out, 1@ Greene Point, 40 degrees, wind NW 10, cloudy.  13:30
1 off Fox close, 5 on far rock.  Excellent day, many families with kids off school for Christmas break.

This week between Christmas and New Years Day is one of my favorite seal watching times, I always have a lot of company with everyone off work and school.  At one point today there were 9 children lined up at the scope, two different groups with one older girl showing everyone how to use the scope.  It was neat how they took their turns; I could tell they were really enjoying themselves because after they finished their turn most of them went to the back of the line for another peek.  They were having a great time among themselves, looking at different seals and giving them pet names.  Big fun and smiles all around.

One of the main reasons I started this site was because I was a little disappointed that many visitors do not locate the seal watching spot when they come to the nature preserve.  I estimate that about half the people who came to see the seals never walk north up the beach far enough to get to see the seals; I can tell this by the number of people I see relative to the number of cars in the parking lot. Days like this one are memorable for the families who make it all the way to the point; but not so much for those who do not know to walk that extra mile.  This was the day when I finally made up my mind to publish this web site.

12/28/08 - 1 seal hauled-out, 60 degrees, wind SW 10-20, cloudy, light fog, lifted so we could see the rocks OK.  13:00
Seals were shy today, saw as many a 10 swimmers at a time, seals were approaching rocks, taking a good look, then swimming away.  Lots of spy hopping behavior.  Storm front on the way for later today, it was very warm.  Something tells me the seals can sense this oncoming weather change and it has affected their behavior today.  Good day to watch a football game.

12/26/08 - 104 seals hauled-out, 40 degrees, wind W 5, clear to partly cloudy.  12:40
Best day so far, seals active in water porpoising and splashing and spy hopping.  1 seal close in at Fox Island, 7 in a cluster off Fox.  No seals on "twins".  108 hauled-out plus 7 swimmers @1315, for total 115.  Plenty of seal watchers today, lots of fun for all. Seals were settled down nicely today, perhaps one of my Christmas wishes has been answered!

12/25/08 - Merry Christmas - 86 seals hauled-out, 45 degrees, wind W-NW 15, gusts to 30, clear.  11:00
30 spooked from pointy rock and cluster area 1110 ?  Many returned 81 @ 1140.  Unusual sea bird, gray with pointy loon-like bill, heavy neck, long thin gull wings.  92 seals @ 1220.

So far this season there are more seals on a consistent basis than any previous season at this time of year.  They seem to be nervous, significant numbers of the seals are spooking every day for no apparent reason.  They do not seem to be scanning any more than usual, but the seals in the middle of the rocks will just dive in the water suddenly.  The big guys on the right side are not impressed, they just keep on lounging.  The seals are more likely to spook when there are lots of seals hauled out; but usually there has to be more than 100 seals before they get so jumpy.  I have never seen the seals spook for no apparent reason as regularly as they have this year.

I hope they settle down, there are enough frayed nerves in the world these days without the seals having anxiety attacks. All I want for Christmas is peaceful seals, peace of mind, and peace on earth.
   
12/14/08 - 90 seals hauled-out, 45 degrees, wind SW 10, partly cloudy.  12:30
20 seals spooked from center rocks @1245 ?, seals on both ends OK.  3 yearlings were on the white rock, they were tan and one had possible markings of a harp seal.  Many more juveniles on "tall rocks" (the rocks on the left, just right of the white rock); the young'uns have arrived!  
Linebelly on pointy rock.  Seal with big cut on throat on center of flat rock.  Guardian on post.  40 seals spooked from "tall rock" and left of cluster 1340 ?

12/3/08 - 65 seals hauled-out, 2@ Greene Point, 40 degrees, wind SW 10, clear.  14:30
Seals active early, big fight left of pointy rock.  Spooked by rec boat 1440, boat did not approach close.  Down to 17, lots of swimmers, back to 65 by 1530. 6 active and splashing after they were spooked.  One seal came halfway out of the water to bite another seal on the tail flipper, left side of right "mound".  Then these two seals had a battle in the water, the seal that was bit won the disputed rock.

12/2/08 - 60 seals hauled-out, 40 degrees, wind SW 10/15, clear.  14:50
Half of the seals spooked by fishing boat 1510, 35 came back to the "cluster".  The seal on the pointy rock can be identified by the line on his belly...now named "Linebelly".

11/19/08 - No seals, 35 degrees, wind north 20+, clear.  12:30

11/18/2008 - 50 seals hauled-out,  3@ Greene Point, 55 degrees, wind calm, clear.  11:30
First seal watch of the season, lots of seals for mid-November, all adults.  Saw a few familiar seals, "Guardian" was on left side of flat rock and the seal that likes the pointy rock is back again this year.  One big seal on flat rock had a "collar" scar around his neck, looked like this was healed OK.  Spooked at 1250 ?
About 25 came back.
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