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Harbor seals may be encountered anywhere along the coast in winter,but two areas in particular hold significant numbers, and are worth thetrouble of a midwinter visit.
Maine Hot Spots
In southern Maine, the area around Wells Harbor and RachelCarson National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) just to the north hostsseveral hundred harbor seals, which haul out of rocky islands and secludedareas of shoreline; their rounded, gray heads are also commonly seen bobbingin the harbor waters before disappearing beneath the surface again.
Despite recent protection, harbor seals remain wary of humans. A goodpair of binoculars or better yet a spotting scope on a tripod willgive you the best views of resting seals. Seals usually choose haul-outspots that cannot be reached by people on foot, but if you should findone resting on the mainland shore, or if you're in a boat, keep a respectfuldistance so that you don't frighten it into leaving.
To reach Wells Harbor: Take I-95 (Maine Turnpike) to Exit 2, turningleft off the exit ramp onto Route 9E/109 South and go 1.5 miles into thetown of Wells. Turn right onto Route 9E/1 South, go 1.3 miles and turnleft onto Mile Road (unmarked) at the sign for Wells Beach. At the endof the mile-long road you'll find several places to park and scan thesea. Turn left on Atlantic Avenue and drive to the end of the peninsula,where it overlooks the breakwaters at the mouth of the Webhannet River.
For a view of the northern side of the harbor, return to Route 1, turningnorth through Wells. Go 1 mile and turn right onto Drake's Island Road.Drive to the beach, turn right, and follow the road to the overview ofthe harbor.
To get to Rachel Carson NWR: Return once more to Route 9E/1 Northand turn right, driving 0.4 miles to the intersection with Route 9 (Route 9 is 1.8 miles from Wells). Turn right. The entrance to the refuge ison the right, less than a mile down Route 9.
Massachusetts Hot Spots
As previously mentioned, one of the largest concentrations of harbor sealscan be found below Cape Cod on Monomoy NWR, resting on the beachesand feeding in the fertile waters offshore of North and South Monomoyislands. This is, in part, because the waters around Monomoy are treacherousin winter, and the islands themselves are closed then to most human activity.Each winter, however, guided day-trips are run by private conservationgroups to Monomoy to see the seals, as well as the phenomenal numbersof sea ducks, including up to 150,000 common eiders that also winterhere. In addition to harbor seals, there is the possibility of seeingthe rarer gray seal off Monomoy; the species pupped here for the firsttime in 1989.
For more information: Contact Monomoy NWR, Morris Island, Chatham, MA 02633; (508) 945-0594. Or call the Massachusetts Audubon Society at (800) AUDUBON; or the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History at (508) 896-3867.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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