Coney Island Marine Mammal Tour Yields Only Polar Bears

The New York City Parks Department’s first shot at a marine mammal tour from Coney Island yielded absolutely none of the hoped for seals, porpoises, dolphins or whales. But we were all shocked and delighted to see real Coney Island polar bears going into the water in bikinis on what turned out to be one of the coldest days of winter. their existence is well-documented on every cheesy local news, but I consider it a rarity to see one in person.

Our park ranger guides, Marissa and Andy, couldn’t have been more enthusiastic or knew more about what we might hope to see. They had us carefully watch a cluster of birds feeding on the surface to see if we saw any seal heads pop up. Andy told us about the loons and Brant Geese (Branta bernicla) wading by the polar bears. Marissa told us stories about dolphins she’s seen regularly patrolling east to west off the Rockaways. She told us about the time a seal hauled out on Coney Island and helpful New Yorkers dragged it back to sea–twice–before realizing it just wanted to sit on the sand.

¬†Wildlife watchers know there are no guarantees in this business. So several of us consoled ourselves with another Coney Island rarity: pizza. Maybe we’ll try one of the other tours to see seals around NYC.

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NYC Starts Watching for Seals on Coney Island

Unbeknownst to New Yorkers, seals have been hanging around the harbor for ages. For the first time the Parks Department is going to try to show them off a marine mammal tour of Coney Island today. (And next week there’ll be a walk through Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx). If Parks is trying to convince New Yorkers seals are out there, it’s a risky move: you can’t be sure when they’ll show up.

But the Coney Island walk is billed as marine mammals. The most likely sighting is a porpoise, says a ranger I talked to. For seals, we could see harbor, harp, gray¬† or even ring seals. There’s also a chance of dolphins (common, white-sided) and whale (fin, minke or humpback). This season seals have been spotted in the Rockaways and the Bronx.

There are other, more reliable ways to see seals around New York City. Though I probably won’t be able to resist the chance to look for them someplace a subway ride away.

CRESLI (Coastal Research and Education Center of Long Island) has seal walks and boat tours on Montauk and a neat map of where you might see seals around Long Island. Seals also visit Sandy Hook in New Jersey from December to March. New York City Audubon has a cruise by a bunch of island on a water taxi. SKSA does kayak tours (wet or dry-suit required) on Long Island.

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