Monday, November 29, 2010

Seal & Seabird Cruise with MA Audubon at Wellfleet Bay on November 27th, 2010

Today NECWA staff and interns (Krill and her family along with Nick and Caitlyn) enjoyed a trip aboard the Naviator to view the seabirds, sea ducks and seals in Wellfleet Harbor. As we boarded the boat, we said hello to our good friend Capt. Ricky Merrill, owner and operator of the Naviator.

The Naviator is a party boat that fishes out of Wellfleet Harbor for much of the season. Capt. Ricky also collaborates with MA Audubon on a number of nature excursions including their summer Marine Wildlife Cruises and their fall Seabird & Seal Cruises.

On the way out to Billingsgate Shoal, our MA Audubon naturalist, Dennis Murley, pointed out the different seabirds and sea ducks that were in Wellfleet Harbor. Dennis is one of the most knowledgeable naturalists who really understand the unique coastal marine wildlife in the area. Even though we have joined Dennis for many of these types of excursions, we always learn so much and have a great time in the process.

As we traveled through the harbor, we chatted with old friends and met new friends, young and old. The youngest passenger onboard was a 3 year old boy who was clearly fascinated with the whole experience. There were a number of other children onboard including a few teenagers. Great to see so many people of all ages "getting out and about on a boat in their boots!"

Caitlyn and Nick had fun trying to identify the different seabirds, sea ducks and gulls in the harbor. Even though they both worked as Whale Watch naturalists this summer for Captain John Boats, they didn't get alot of time to focus on the seabirds offshore. And this trip gave them a feel for how different each excursion offshore can be.

Feeding in Wellfleet Harbor were Northern Gannets who were plunge diving from heights of over 30 feet. We also saw numerous small groups of Razorbills and Dovekies, both cold waters birds that are found in Cape Cod Bay in early spring and late fall. There were many sightings of sea ducks including Long-tailed Ducks, Common Eiders, White-winged Scoters and Surf Scoters. It was clear to see that Wellfleet Harbor was teaming with life even in these cold wintery conditions.

As we slowly approached the seals that were hauled out on Billingsgate Shoal, we marveled at their ability to withstand such cold extremes, not just above the water's surface, but also below. Laying on this temporary beach were over 100 Gray Seals and Harbor Seals. Gray Seals are easy to identify by their large size and distinctive Romanesque nose.

Harbor Seals are much smaller in size and have more of a rounded head with an upturned nose. Like the Gray Seals, each Harbor Seal possess a unique pattern of spots on a coat that can be either light or dark in color. The overall color of these seals can vary from gray, to brown to red, but most individuals have a lighter belly area.

It was great to have such an up-close and personal view of these amazing marine mammals. And as we drifted alongside the seals, we could hear many of their vocalizations to one another. As a chorus, the seals vocalizations sounded like a soft humming sound that would rise and fall in pitch. We were entranced by their beauty and we sad when told it was time to head back to the dock.

We hope you will join MA Audubon at Wellfleet Bay and Capt. Ricky Merrill for one of their Seal & Seabird cruises next fall. Each cruise is only 1.5 hours long and they are a great way of getting out in nature and connecting with the Cape's wildlife.