I Find a Gray Seal Pup

Two weeks ago, Esau the dog and I were walking down the road to beautiful Flying Point Beach in Watermill on the south fork of Long Island.

Long Island

On the way, we encounter a flock of mostly headless mute swans on little Mecox Bay.

Mute and headless swans

The beach is empty.  Empty of humans, that is. Shorebirds dart about on toothpick legs while herring, black-backed and other gulls swoop overhead.

Juvenile gull on the prowl

As we walk, I scan the ocean for wildlife.  I always look for seals – or floating bowling balls, which is what seal heads resemble when they peek out of the water.  I used to see seals in Casco Bay when I lived in Portland, Maine and in the waters of Long Nook Beach on Cape Cod.  But in decades of walks on Flying Point Beach, I have never spotted a seal, although I know they are out there.

Three gorgeous, punky-crested red-breasted mergansers swim by.

With a better camera, you would see how beautiful these  merganser boys are. 

Further down the beach, I spy an unusual lump.

Beach lump: what is it?

We walk lumpward and the lump reveals itself to be … a seal pup.

Is it all right?

It is a few feet long, and remarkably fat.

I  scan the water in hopes of seeing a mother seal bobbing just offshore. Nothing. Has the little guy been abandoned? Is it injured or ill?  Not wanting to frighten the seal, I keep my distance, and examine the pup through binoculars.  The little seal seems to sleep.


It perks up and looks around.


It rolls over onto its back and wriggles around, as if to scratch an itch.

Oh, hello.

Sometimes it gazes right at Esau and me. It rubs its nose with a flipper and sometimes seems to be playing peek-a-boo. I worry about its flippers.  Are they moving properly? I can’t tell.

I use my cell phone to call a rescue hotline operated by the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Mammals. A woman from the answering service tells me that several people have already called to report the Flying Point seal pup. I ask when a biologist will arrive to assess its health. She has no idea.

“But it may be injured or abandoned,” I say. “Surely someone will come soon.”

The woman explains that the Foundation handles all of Long Island from Queens to Montauk. With only one van. The van has gone to Coney Island to check out a seal, and has several other stops to make on the way back. There’s no telling when or if anyone will come to Watermill.

I call the Southampton police station to see if they can help. The policeman says no one there has the training to evaluate a seal (fair enough). He affirms that the hotline is the best resource.

So I wait and watch, accompanied by my patient dog.

I wonder at the strange tug of kinship with a fellow creature, a baby, alone and possibly in distress. And  yet how different we are. I don’t know how to interpret the seal’s movements. What is it saying when it gazes at us or when it covers its eyes with a flipper, the way my old dog Lucy used to do with a paw?

The sun goes down, and my fingers start to freeze. A friend brings gloves to the beach  and stays to wonder at the little lump, seemingly on its own in an expanse of sea, sand and sky.

No one comes. After a long while, we walk away.

In the morning, I return to find … nothing. The seal is gone, and the ocean has claimed the spot where the little animal rested.

Click here for a follow-up on the seals of NYC and Long Island. To read about the seal-people known as silkies, click here.

Explore posts in the same categories: 2011, April, In the Country, Sea Mammals, seals, Seasons, Spring, Wildlife/Natural History

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21 Comments on “I Find a Gray Seal Pup”

  1. […] carelessly from a stroller. Almost. I have that strange gathering of the insides that I feel when I see an animal unexpectedly. I pick up the little creature to see if it’s alive. It […]

  2. […] for Marine Research and Preservation, which I first encountered after finding an adorable gray seal pup on Flying Point Beach on Long Island’s south fork, is on the […]

  3. […] I Find A Gray Seal Pup Herons, Swans and Coots on Long Island Swans on Long Island Crabbing on Eastern Long Island Share this:PrintEmailMoreDiggLike this:LikeOne blogger likes this post. Explore posts in the same categories: 2012, Art and Literature, In the City, In the Country […]

  4. […] my encounter earlier this spring with a lone gray seal pup on a Long Island beach, seals have been swimming through my thoughts.  Such encounters are on the […]

  5. […] (Read about my April encounter with a gray seal pup on Long Island here.) […]

  6. Mark Harvey Says:

    My family and I spent the day near a by beach (Brightlingsea, England) yesterday when my Son when my Son Jamesie came running over, as a seal pup was trying to get ashore (which is virtually unheard of in crowded areas). So, we went to see it, there was already a crowd of people around it. It soon swam off only to come back to shore a few yards away – again, the growing 50 or so people were trying to get close to it. Before anyone could encircle the poor thing again, we saw that it was shaking (and everyone did the same again) – and it swam off further. When it returned onto a sandy area I made sure that people (and their unleashed dogs) kept their distance for a few hours before it was recovered (an elderly Lady arrived with a large box) – there was no visible trauma, but it was apparent that the pup was very distressed. We quickly managed to get it into the container, and then to a van to be treated. The pup is being transferred to RSPCA Eastwick today – the diagnosis is lung worm, which is curable. So, I’m going to see if I can help further. The preliminary rescue centre has said that the pup looks very sedate, until it is approached – it obviously has a fighting spirit, which may help it to recover… I also want to try to help, and hopefully see it returned to the see.

    • The pup is lucky that you were there to protect it from the crowd. I hope you can stay connected to it as it recovers, and maybe be present when it is released into the sea. I believe my seal pup was probably just resting, and was fortunate to have come ashore on a cold, mostly empty beach. Unleashed dogs are a huge worry – and I say that as a dog-owner and lover. Thank you very much for taking the time to share your experience.

  7. Oh Melissa, this made me cry and tugged at me so… also the not knowing and the presence turned to absence. so glad you had your camera with you. love to you…

  8. sunny Says:

    Great seal photos!! From your stills he looked happy and very playful, just enjoying some sun. I hope the little guy is doing okay on his North Atlantic swim.

    • Hi Ranger Sunny! Delighted to know you are still following Out Walking the Dog. I now think you are right that the pup was probably happy and healthy. It was a beautiful experience to be so close to it.

  9. Charlotte Says:

    Great story Melissa. Waiting on tender hooks to hear the rest….

  10. Rebecca Says:

    A much more hopeful sighting of a marine mammal on the beach than my recent one, when I found a dead baby dolphin washed up that had apparently been killed by a shark. Still, it was an interesting experience calling and reporting it. I’m a little shocked at the lack of response to your call to the hotline – sounds like they are seriously underfunded!

    • How amazing and sad to find the baby dolphin.

      In defense of the marine mammal foundation, I found out the next day that they apparently had heard descriptions of the seal’s behavior from earlier callers, leadsing them to believe it was probably a healthy little guy, just resting up. I’m sure you are right about them being underfunded, though, so if anyone feels like giving, click on the link in the article!

  11. mthew Says:

    I am so jealous! And I think that the sea dog pup was fine. It sounds like it was being playful, just like a plump mammal should be, and innocent/curious about you and alias Esau, like any youngster would be.

  12. Barbara Says:

    Let’s cross our fingers that the little seal finally heard its mother and back into the ocean – that it was fine, just having a day on the beach because its mother was off hunting. When you left, mother could come back and call it and all would be well… but please let us know…

    As always – you did the right thing – not touching it or handling it. Apparently this is a common occurance with seal pups… but how hard to watch it.

    Let us know please if it was indeed needing rescue… what a great service the marine mammal rescue is.

    And thank you for the beautiful photographs of a part of Long Island I had no idea existed… sharing your world is such a terrific experience.

    • At the time, I was very worried about the seal, but my subsequent research leads me to think it was probably just fine. I understand the temptation to over-involve oneself in a wildlife situation, to try to “help” an animal in ways that are actually probably harmful. Happy to have done NOTHING but watch and feel awestruck.

  13. linda Says:

    I used to live in Sag Harbor and I had my own wildlife sightings( mostly turtles, deer and rabbits) and for some unknown reason a horseshoe crab on the lawn( we lived in town)It is a shame that in an area with so much wealth they only have one van for the marine foundation. They should organize a fundraiser because I know my aunt used to live near the beach in Southampton and there was always a sea turtle or some marine creature in distress.I do remember driving in Southampton with my aunt and a family of ducklings was crossing the road and a nasty looking man in a BMW was ready to run them over just so he could get wherever his mean little self had to go.Of course I ran out of the car and stopped him but I no longer live out there and I often wonder how many ducks and other animals are killed by the pretentious wannabees who go out there just for status and forget about nature?

    • Linda, there are still turtles, deer, rabbits, ducks and horseshoe crabs although there is less and less available habitat. The farm fields are now huge houses, often built on spec & not even used, and even some marshland is now being built on.

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