Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Norwalk's Gray Seals

Certainly not one of the most beautiful scientific
names ever given to a living species,

Halichoerus grypus, translates to "hook nosed pig of the sea"

We commonly know this mammal as the Gray seal in Connecticut, they are also nick named "horseheads"
Both spellings (gray and grey) are acceptable.

It wasn't many years back that this seal was sort of an oddity in South Western Long Island Sound, with virtually all seal sightings off the Norwalk Islands being solely Harbor seals.
These days the gray seal is a regular throughout the sound and can be seen wintering over as far south as New Jersey.

Recently News 12 Connecticut aired a story about a young pup harbor seal stranded along the rocky shoreline in Milford CT. Viewing this story I agree the seal was a fairly young pup, and that it was on a rocky shoreline, but it sure looked an awful lot like a gray, rather than harbor seal.
After doing a fair amount of research, I came up with something interesting, the western Atlantic population of the gray seal breed later then their eastern Atlantic cousins, and bear young later. In fact our western breed of seals give birth to their young from January through March.
Holy "sea pigs" Batman! Are we having gray seals giving birth to there young right here in Western Long Island Sound?
The News12 seal seems to give much credence to this fact, that at least a few are, what other young pup seal would be hanging around this area, especially pups with those long horse head looking traits.
Male seals mate with as many females as they possible can, this mating period occurs after the females have weened their pups (about 3 weeks after giving birth)
So armed with these facts, plus the photos below taken as evidence, lets start putting the scene together.

Gray seals return to LIS in late autumn to early winter and stay here until early April.
During this time slot, pregnant females should give birth, shortly followed by mating.
(A quick note, this seals gestation period is ten months to a year)
The bottom line here is, if these seals are wintering over in the western sound and if their natural reproduction period is encompassed into this time period, then yes they should be giving birth to their young, right here on our doorsteps. How cool is that?
Below are several of my pictures taken around the Norwalk Islands, from the last two winters.
These photos have been cropped so that close up views of the seals can be seen. Cut out of the scene in these pictures may be up to six more gray seals.Note the bull, hanging out with the ladies in all the shots. These pictures were taken from mid Febuary to mid March. Possible breeding time, as the male seem to be really warming up to the females and vice versa.
I will now end this episode, but will be back soon with Part II on the Norwalk Seals!
( If you click on the photos they should enlarge)

Male in front, female in rear.

Male to left, then two females and one harbor seal.

Bull keeping guard on mate?


  1. I love that first photo!!! That guys it poking his head up and looking right at you!

    Charlie and I were on Penfield Reef a couple weeks back and we had at least 12, maybe more, hanging out on the rocks beyond the reef.

    One was clearly a large Harbor, but I thought I noticed a longer snout and widely spaced nostrils on one of them. It was tough to gauge species in the wind, and with the reef drowning rather quickly!

    Great stuff, Larry.


  2. The only way I can see the seals during winter is by kayak which can be dangerous and perfect conditions are needed.
    Several years ago, we went out on Jan 1. First sighting was rocks just off Copps Is and then over to south side of Sheffield and Great Reef we hit the mother lode with plenty of seals. We kept our distance like we are supposed to and one approached us and actually swam under our kayaks. Cool!
    You can take me out there anytime, plus with a kayak, all you can use is compact binoculars.
    David Park

  3. I was out there this past Saturday, I saw three kayakers south of Shea, and then around Copps. Was that you?

  4. No. I am not a fan of cold water anymore. I have a 17 ft blue boat with a small American flag on the stern. You need a lot of special equip for cold water paddling including the right gloves, boots and dry suit. The weakest link to those dry suits are the rubber gaskets on the wrists and neck that tear getting in and out. You end up with a fancy gortex suit that leaks all over.
    Some old time boaters don't like the proliferation of kayaks, but you might be interested in or just google "kayaking in and around the norwalk islands." There are several pages of info and links, in fact I can put a link to this blog if you want.
    David Park