INWOOD — Inwood has gotten the seal of approval from an unusual visitor.
A harbor seal that was spotted in the waters of the Spuyten Duyvil Creek on Monday evening has made several repeat appearances, hopping up onto the dock near Columbia University’s boathouse at least once a day since then, according to witnesses.
“He was there from about 11:30 to 12 today,” said Tom Steinbach, who teaches at Columbia University’s tennis center, which overlooks the dock. “He was out sunning himself on the end of the pier.”
Steinbach said the animal later splashed around in the shallow waters near the dock before swimming farther out. He said seals have occassionally appeared in the area during his 14-year tenure at the facility.
Betty Lee, who also works at the tennis center and has a view of the dock from her post at the front desk, spotted the seal on Wednesday and Thursday.
“He doesn’t do tricks or anything as far as I know,” she said, noting with a laugh that the seal mostly lays around.
Lee said another staffer has suggested naming the animal the Columbia C-Lion, in honor of the school's mascot and the large C that some Columbia students painted on nearby cliffs in 1952.
Lee, who keeps a pair of binoculars nearby to watch the many birds that call the area home, said the seal's color surprised her.
“He’s much lighter than I would have thought. I would have pictured it to be black or brown.”
A field officer from Animal Care and Control stopped by to observe the animal on Monday when it was initially spotted, determining that it was not injured, an ACC&C spokeswoman said.
If there were concerns over the seal's health, the officer would have reported it to the Riverhead Foundation, which operates New York State’s Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Program, she noted.
Riverhead spokeswoman Rachel Bosworth said she did not believe the organization had received any calls about the seal.
After learning about its visits from DNAinfo, experts from the foundation reviewed photographs and determined that it is a harbor seal, Bosworth said.
Bosworth noted that the seal looked healthy and that its behavior did not raise any red flags.
“The seal may be a little more comfortable in crowded areas than usual, but it is natural for them to haul out on beaches and docks, especially this time of year as the weather gets warmer,” she said.
Bosworth said that people are encouraged to report any such unusual sightings to Riverhead, whether or not the animal seems to be in distress. She also cautioned that onlookers to keep their distance from the animal.
“People should not get within 150 feet or 50 yards of these animals as they are federally protected and getting too close would fall under harassment,” she said.
Raul Gonzalez, a security guard at the facility, spotted the seal around 6:30 a.m. Thursday. He said it jumped back into the water after noticing Gonzalez watching it.
“He’s a fat little thing,” Gonzalez said, noting that the seal seems to like the end of the dock best. “He’s in a spot where all the seagulls always find fish, so I think he found a hot spot."
Gonzalez said that he and the other security guards have viewed a large variety of wildlife in the nearby park, including skunks, possums, geese, ducks and hawks.
“But that’s the most outrageous thing we’ve ever seen,” he said of the seal.