Best Places to See SEALS & SEA LIONS

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SEALS TODAY: current situation and conflicts

For centuries fishermen killed seals on sight, viewing them as a menace and competitor. Governments paid bounties on seals as late as the 1960s. Fishermen still periodically call for massive seal culls. Seal populations have been kept artificially low by the practice and now some populations are recovering.


Scenes of fluffy whitecoat harp seals being bludgeoned to death amid enormous ponds of blood have become iconic symbols of not only the seal hunt, but inhumane hunting in general. Candada, Norway, Iceland, Russia and Namibia still hunt seals. Canada set its 2009 quota for the seal hunt at 280,000. In 2009, the European Union banned the import of seal products from commercial hunters. Who would want seal products? Well, you might already be consuming them if you take Omega-3 oil.


Seals still get shot. Many seals die from entanglements with fishing nets and equipment. Even when a marine stranding center is nearby, it's difficult to treat because a tranquilized seal could go into the water and drown.


Seals are one of those animals that look sweet and friendly, but you must resist the temptation to think of them that way.


Keep your distance on the beach. CRESLI (Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island) says that means 100 yards on shore or 200 yards in a boat. The New Zealand Department of Conservation recommends just 10 meters (32 feet). CRESLI also recommends wearing drab colored clothes and staying quiet and calm.


Seal mothers have go out hunting while leaving their pup on the shore, so do not assume a solitary pup is orphaned. The mother may not come back if you wait nearby, either.


Dogs and seals don't mix.


What's the difference between a seal and a sea lion?

Seals only have ear flaps, not ears; they're generally smaller and quieter and their back fins aren't dexterous. Seal lions do have ears and are big, loud and agile--making them stars of aquariums.

How does the walrus fit in?

They're all classified as pinnipeds, but divided into three families: earless seals (Phocidae), eared seals (Otariidae), and walruses (Odobenidae).


northeast Northeast - See other animals in the Northeast
seal or sea lion

Cape Cod

Chatham, MA Biggest East Coast Seal Colony

Thousands of seals live near the elbow of Cape Cod. That's the biggest group on the U.S. east coast, somewhere around 10,000--(no one's done a formal count since 1999 when it was 5,600), according to the National Marine Fisheries Service 2008 report on gray seals.
Seal populations were kept artificially low for decades--maybe centuries. Massachusetts even paid a bounty for each seal killed unti the 1960s.  The U.S. gray seal population is dwarfed by the Canadian one: More than 200,000 on Sable Island, Nova Scotia and 20,000 on the St. Lawrence.
If you can manage to park, you can try to see seals by the town beach or by Chatham Lighthouse (where a great white shark was spotted eating a seal in August, 2009). But your best bet for seeing lots of seals and close is one of the half dozen boat tours.

Chatham's Municipal Fish Pier on Shore Rd. (508)945-5265$27.00  $25
Monomoy Island Ferry 20-year veteran, usually runs April-Dec. 90-minute cruise, $30
Blue Claw Boat Tours 508.240.5783, Orleans, MA, $25
A more expensive but year-round tour leaves from Nantucket, goes for 2.5 hours in search of seals Muskeget Island.
Shearwater Excursions $90 508-228-7037

According to the report, Woods Hole now has a small population of gray seals.

seal or sea lion
Sandy Hook, NJ -- near NYC -- Winter Harbor Seals
In winter Harbor Seals visit Sandy Hook NWR. The NYC Audubon and other clubs offer walking tours.
seal or sea lion Long Island - MONTAUK
The Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island offers seal walks Nov.-May at Montauk and Cupsogue Beach County Park.
seal or sea lion
Isles of Shoals, NH Steamship Seal Tours
A stable old timey steamship heads out to nine privately owned Isles of Shoals that straddle New Hampshire and Maine. You may see Basking Sharks, Sun Fish (Mola Mola), breaching Tuna and Harbor Seals. But don't bring your own food or a dog; they have lots of rules.
Isles of Shoals Steamship, 315 Market St., Portsmouth, NH (603) 431-5500

seal or sea lion



The Maine Coast hosts breeding colonies of gray seals on Green and Seal Islands.

Bar Harbor
Down East Windjammer Cruises An  old lobstering sailboat takes you (and only five others) out into the Gulf of Maine to look for seals, bald eagles and porpoises. $38 (207) 288-2984

New Harbor

In the summer harbor seals hang out on Webber's Dry Ledge and Hardy Boat out of New Harbor takes you to see them. From late June to early September they go out every day. A month before and after, it's just weekends. They also cruise to see puffins and lighthouses.
132 State Route 32, New Harbor, Maine
1-800-2-PUFFIN (1-800-278-3346)

Seal Island & Green Island

Seals really do live on Seal Island again. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service 2008 report on gray seals, in 2002 Seal Island had 193 seals and nine pups and Green Island, near Boothbay Harbor, has 74 adults and 31 pups. Green Island has cabins nearby.

Belfast & Castine

Boats leave from Belfast Maine and either cruise Castine Harbor or head to Castine, home of the  Maine Maritime Academy. The tours go regularly in the summer and are dog-friendly.
Belfast Bay Cruises leave from Thompson Wharf,  Belfast, Maine
Lovely black lab Hawser is chief mate. 207-322-5530

seal or sea lion
Newburyport, MA -- Joppa Flats Seals
Not far north of Boston, Newburyport is a winter home to harbor seals that move into the Merrimack River estuary for fish and shelter. Massachusetts Audubon runs educational programs for kids.
1 Plum Island Turnpike, Newburyport, MA, 978-462-9998
seal or sea lion
Newport, RI - Rose Island Light
From November to April Harbor seals live in Newport Harbor. They haul out on Citing Rock, which you can see from Rose Island Light. You can visit the lighthouse, which is on its own island, for the day or even stay over for a week or day. There's solar power and heat, so you can even stay in the winter.
The Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation also works with Save the Bay to run seal boat tours in the winter. 401-324-6020

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seal or sea lion

Icy Cape, Chukchi Sea, Northern Alaska - Walruses

As more arctic ice melted in 2009, a huge herd of 3,500 Pacific seals beached itself near Icy Cape on the Chukchi Sea. Normally the walruses rest on ice floes, but with those melting they've been forced to sleep on land. The huge numbers have lead to stampedes--sometimes caused by small planes flying overhead--that trample many young seals to death. In 2007 7,000 walruses landed, surprsing biologists. An even bigger herd of 200,000-some walruses lives on the other side of the Chukchi Sea, including 40,000 on Cape Shmidt, on the mainland south of Wrangel Island.

seal or sea lion

Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay National Park has black and grizzly bear, stellar sea lion, mountain goats, dall's por
poise (check the entrance to Icy Straight), harbor seal, otters and birds. Guillemots and puffins are in the northern bay. Bald eagles are all over the place. It has a huge population of the rare  murrelet.
Humpbacks eat there in the summer. Killer whales spend the year. Gray whales visit the outer coast in spring and fall.  Dall's porpoises like the open water; harbor porpoises prefer sheltered waters.
CA California -- See other animals in California
seal or sea lion

San Diego - La Jolla at Children's Pool Beach

The Children's Pool Beach attracts harbor seals and California sea lions. The area has been a site of contention: it's one of the best places to see seals in the country, but thanks to a lawsuit of a former resident, San Diego is spending $700,000 a year to try to remove the seals. Stay tuned. 850 Coast Blvd., La Jolla, CA 92037, (858) 221-8884
seal or sea lion
San Francisco - Pier 29 WaterFront Sea Lions

Since 1990 a group of sea lions has been hanging out on the docks of Pier 39 in San Francisco. Other places may have worked to evict giant creates, which intimidated boat owners, but this dock welcomes the sea lions, which draw many tourists.
The Marine Mammal Center runs an interpretive center on the second floor. Winter is the best time to visit; that's when up to 900 sea lions, mainly males, will sun themselves and jockey for a good spot. In the summer it may only be a couple dozen because the rest have gone off to mate in the Channel Islands.

Gulf of the Farallones

You can see sharks in the Farallons off  San Francisco either as part of a whale tour or you can get in the water with them on a diving tour.
It's one of the best shark-watching sites in the Gulf of the Farallons National Marine Sanctuary.
You'll pass lighthouses, and possibly see migrating gray whales, puffins. Sharks who come to eat seals and sea lions. Gulf of the Farallones Natural History Tour

Point Reyes National Seashore - Elephant Seals

Elephant Seals returned in 1970s to Point Reyes National Seashore. A breeding colony returns to Chimney Rock every December-March.
1 Bear Valley Rd., Point Reyes Station, CA (415) 464-5100

Elkhorn Slough

Tiger, leopard and smooth-hound sharks can be found at the Elkhorns Slough, a wetland near Monterey Bay. In the spring and summer you can sometimes see them from the boardwalk. Or you can try a kayak in the area best known for otters. The Slough also has harbor seals, buffleheads, herons, egrets and cormorants.

seal or sea lion
Pacific Marine Mammal Center
The Pacific Marine Mammal Center advocates for seals and sea lions and does hands on work caring for orphaned or injured marine mammals.They offer a one-hour, $25 behind the scenes tour.
20612 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, CA (949) 494-3050

seal or sea lion



weird bird

San Miguel Island

San Miguel Island--the Channel Island furthest out to sea from Santa Barbara, CA, is one of three major breeding colonies of the northern fur seal in the U.S. The other three are off Russia and have been hit hard by seal hunting. Some think this seal, classified by the IUCN Red List as vulnerable, wised up and migrated from Russia to California. Its biggest population is in the Pribilof Islands, way off Alaska. This island has six species of pinniped: Guadalupe fur seals, Steller sea lion, northern fur seals, California sea lions, northern elephant seals, and harbor seals.
Channel Island National Park, (805) 658-5730
Bonus species: brown pelican, bald eagle, Spotted Skunk, Townsend's long-eared bats, only breeding tufted puffins, Cassin’s auklets, and rhinoceros auklets in southern California.

seal or sea lion

Año Nuevo

Año Nuevo State Park is the breeding colony of imposing Northern elephant seals, one of the few marine mammals on the rise. During the breeding season, Dec-March, you can only visit with a guide. Steller, grey and California seals also live here.
Bonus species: San Francisco garter snake, gray whales pass by
Pescadero, CA

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seal or sea lion
British Columbia


People come to Tofino, a tiny former fishing town, to see killer, gray and humpback whales, bears, huge storms and the Clayoquot Sound, a United Nations World Biosphere Reserve.
Ocean Outfitters has both bear and whale viewing. 421 Main St, 250-725-2866 

Jamie's Whaling Station has been running since 1982 and offers whale, sea lion and bear tours. You can go on a big cruiser or little zodiac. The Sea Lion tours visit Wouwer Island in Barkley Sound, where 2,500 California and Stellar Sea Lions visit in August and September.

606 Campbell St 250-725-3919, 800-667-9913,

Port McNeil

From May to October boats go out of Port McNeil to look for Killer Whales. You may also see minke whales, humpback whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Dall’s porpoises, harbour seals, Steller sea lions, and nesting eagles.
Stubbs Island Whale Watching
BC's first whale watching company.$90 (2009) Telegraph Cove, BC

Telegraph Cove

The launch point for many whale and grizzly bear tours, where you may see seals as you head to Knight Inlet or Bute Inlet.

seal or sea lion
Îles de la Madeleine, Quebec - Harp Seal Pups
The Magdelen Islands off Quebec--way off Quebec, almost to Newfoundland--are where a quarter million Harp Seals from Greenland spend the winter. They give birth to fluffy white cubs in March. Yes, these are the whitecoats that are bludgeoned to death by the thousands. Some think providing an ecotourism alternative is a way to convince the locals to stop hammering the baby seals to death; be warned that, which is campaigning against the hunt, calls for a boycott to Magdelan Islands and Newfoundland. And they say the Seal Interpretive Center is a big pro-seal hunt propaganda machine.
Natural Habitat Tours runs weeklong tours that cost about $5,000 and include one $400 helicopter ride over the seals.
Château Madelinot offers 3 night packages for about $1,000. Both include a Survival Mustang Suit that you have to wear.
seal or sea lion
Prince Edward Island - Murray Harbor
The residents of Murray Harbor on Prince Edward Island have been enjoying a seal colony for about 60 years, with formal tours going since the 1980s. Though the tours are neither formal nor big (they let us bring our senior dog (though made sure that Jolly wasn't going to bother the seals first.)
Marine Adventures, Route 4 and the river, tours up to three times a day. (902) 962-2494
Latin America Latin America -- See other animals in Latin America
seal or sea lion


wildlife watchers. The endangered Galapaogos fur seals and Galapagos sea lions are part of the reason: protected from hunting they let you get quite close.
Bonus species: Endangered Galapagos Penguins, Giant tortoises, iguanas, flamingos, petrels, Flightless cormorants, Blue-footed Booby, albatross.

seal or sea lion


Guadalupe Island is headquarters to the Guadalupe Fur Seal, a near threatened species. Pups are born from mid-June to August here. They are branching out to the the San Benitos Islands.

Europe Europe - See other animals in Europe

seal or sea lion


From Penzance you can take a 2-hour boat tour from Elemental ToursWildlife Extra to try to see basking sharks, dolphins, orcas, porpoises, minke, fin or pilot whales, grey seals or sunfish.


The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society has a couple outposts in Scotland. The center at Sprey Bay--an hour from Inverness--is supposed to be one of the best land-based places to see dolphins. The wildlife center in North Kessock is a great place to see seals. You might also see otters, seals, osprey and whales. The WDCS Shorewatch map lists lots of places around Moray Firth to look for dolphins, including Chanonry Point.

Ramsey Island

Ramsey Island, off Pembrokeshire, has one of the biggest seal colonies in Europe. The RSPB Sanctuary is open April-Oct. Gray seals breed here in the fall.
Bonus species: Guillemot, Razorbill

seal or sea lion

Zakynthos, Greece

Zakynthos, Greece, is the 6th Ionian Island, gets mentioned in The Odyessy and is home to the Mediterranean monk seal, the most endangered animal in Europe and the rarest marine mammal. Thanks to hunting and fishermen killing them there are only 350-500 left and their population is disconnected. Bonus species: loggerhead sea turtles.



This northern outpost of Norway, Andoy, has boat safaris to see seals and sperm whale and you'll also get to see the northern lights. The seal safari leaves from Stave and goes to the Ramsar wetlands reserve, where the environmental convention was signed. The Dolphin Fund says the seal safari is sometimes reckless.

Asia Asia


seal or sea lion

Cape Schmidt

As walruses start spending more time on land because the arctic ice is melting, they are turning up in huge numbers on Cape Schmidt, Cape Shmidt, on the mainland south of Wrangel Island. 
 40,000 were reported in 2007. About 2,000 of the larger Russian population of 200,000 died in stampedes in the crowding.
Africa Africa

seal or sea lion


False Bay, South Africa

Most people come here to see the great white sharks off South Africa, which are known to leap out of the water to catch seals. So you'll see seals here, though if you like them, you may be horrified. The hotspot of this rare breeching habit is False Bay, about 20 miles south of Cape Town. The season is April-September.
African Shark Dives has both boat and diving tours.
White Shark Projects
offers 1-3 day cage dives off a catamaran.

Oz Australia

seal or sea lion


Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island is like Australia's Galapagos--it's got a ton of habitats and animals that aren't terrified of people. It's home to the rarest seal in the world, the Australia Sea Lion. Only 12,000 are left and about 700 live at the Seal Bay Conservation Park. You can walk among them but only with a guide. That's so you don't disturb their rest. They can spend days out at sea eating crustaceans and need to sleep. There's also a long boardwalk. The island is about a 45-minute ferry ride from Adelaide. About 2,100 Australian Sea Lions live nearby on The Pages and another 1,650 live at Dangerous Reef.

Bonus species: wallabies, echidna

seal or sea lion



Wobbegongs and nurse sharks visit the east coast of Australia. You can dive with boats out of Southwest Rocks or from one place near Sydney.
Fish Rock Dive Centre is recommended by ElasmoDiver.
134 Gregory St, South West Rocks NSW (02) 6566 6614
ElasmorDiver also recommends the South West Rocks Dive Center
Near Sydney at Magic Point, Abyss Scuba has dives to see nurse sharks and seals.



If you have a suggestion for a spot, we'd love to hear about it. Please email us.


Best Locations List
friends of the dolphin
Coastal Resarch and Eduction Society of Long Island
Sea Shephard
Seal Conservation Society
Humane Society Seal Campaign
International Fund for Animal Welfare: Stop the Seal Hunt Campaign
Save the Bay (Narragansett Bay)
Defenders of Wildlife
Humane Society of the United States
World Wildlife Fund
wildlife reading
See a seal, let it be HearldNet

When Arctic Sea Ice Melts Shippers Win and Walruses Lose

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