I was in the middle of loading up my kayak to head out for a days paddle through the marsh with the GoPro Hero Cam and my 200-400 vr in search of horses. The first call came in from my wife about the seal. The second, from the head biologist of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Someone had reported a seal on the beach of the Currituck Beach National Wildlife Refuge and they needed someone to get the beach blocked off, ID, assess, and photograph it. I grabbed my gear, jumped into my suburban and took off!
Lets see here, photograph a seal on the beach . . . or go kayaking? Not a tough decision!
Upon arrival I was able to immediately identify the animal as an adult harp seal. Now for those of you who have followed this journal over the years, you know that the Outer Banks tends to only see the first year pups along our beaches, while the adults stay up north. This year however has blown that theory completely out of the water. I spent an entire year researching, interviewing penniped biologists, and writing a story for Wildlife in North Carlina magazine on seals of the Outer Banks and attempting to answer the question of why in fact it was only the pups that we typically see. . . Then, just days after sending in the story I got a phone call about a report of seals on an island in the Pamlico sound.
The following day I grabbed my kayak, drove down to the south side of Oregon Inlet and launched my boat to investigate. What did I find? 37 adult seals hauled out on the beach of an island! Nothing like this had been documented in North Carolina before. This was technically going against everything we thought we knew about seals.
So when I found this adult harp seal out on the beach, and with the knowledge that there was another one spotted in Nags Head, I assume this may have been one of the adults I saw hauled out on the island. Interestingly, two days later I received and confirmed a report of a seal on the sound side of the Carova hanging out on someones dock – yet again, another adult harp seal – though this one was a different individual from the other two.
The crazy thing about these harp seals is that they are pack ice seals. These are the little fuzzy white ones that that you see portrayed as pups on the ice sheets. These are also the ones that Canada still allows to be bludgeoned to death and their furs sold around the world. So, not really a species that we see around these parts like the harbor seal.