Arctic Seals Warm to the Brutal Cold of City Beaches, Officials Say
THE ROCKAWAYS — First there was Justin Bieber. Now here's a new Canadian sensation to flip out over.
New York's frigid winter has sparked a northern invasion of a different kind — a cadre of adorable arctic seals flocking to area beaches, including one little guy who waddled into the Rockaways Thursday afternoon to tan, officials said.
The Riverhead Foundation, a nonprofit that does marine animal rescues in the New York-Long Island area, said it has received several calls a day of juvenile harp seals flopping onto local beaches, a director there said.
"It does seem to correlate with the colder weather," said Kim Durham, Riverhead's rescue program director. "We've had a very pronounced winter this year. The last time we did see these animals it was a brutal winter."
Normally harbor and gray seals are spotted in New York's waters, but months of frigid weather — with a chilly average temperature of 32.2 degrees, 2 degrees below normal — have led to more than two dozen spottings of their cousins from the north in the area.
Since Jan. 1, there have been 25 reports of harp seals in the New York area and 17 animals have been found, both live and dead. These numbers stand in stark contrast to the single harp seal found in 2013.
On Thursday, a 13- to 14-month-old male harp seal made its way onto the sand near Beach 21st Street in the Rockaways around noon, prompting the NYPD to alert Riverhead staff.
The wildlife experts said it was in good health and should be left alone, Durham said.
"He's a very handsome little guy. It doesn't appear that anything is wrong with the animal," she added.
These young harps — called yearlings — molt their first coats during their first spring, usually before April, Durham said.
They're typically born the February before in the Northwest Atlantic near Canada and use the warm spring sun to help shed their fur, Durham said.
"It becomes a challenge when they pick populated areas, where they tend to get harassed," Durham said.
A police officer drew a line in the sand around the Rockaway seal with the warning, "I'm just tanning. Please, keep back."
Two rabbis who teach at nearby Darchei Torah have walked the beach for a decade and noticed a police commotion Thursday and decided to check it out.
"This is much better than Sea World. It's in its natural habitat," said Shimon Noris, 43.
His friend differed.
"It probably got lost," said 60-year-old Libish Langer.
"It seems comfortable. It doesn't seem disturbed by people being around it," Noris said.
The little guy had admirers flipping out on Twitter.
"Omg hi," tweeted @KBlitzPSU.
And @MizLIzW tweeted: "He or she is gorgeous! What a smile! :)"
The seals can appear haggard as they tend not to eat during this molting period, but Durham still warned passersby not to interfere and notify authorities if they see marine life.
"Be a good seal neighbor," she said.
Those who spot distressed marine life should call the Riverhead Foundation's 24 hour hotline at 631-369-9829.