The Seals of Sandy Hook.

After driving over 2,500 miles on our Midwest holiday road trip, what could possibly cause us to wake up the very next morning, eat a quick breakfast, and get back in the car? What might be so alluring, so compelling, that we would do more driving after having just driven halfway across the country and back? In a word: seals.

For the better part of a month, there have been reports of seals appearing at Gateway National Park – Sandy Hook. Each year, for a three-month window, harbor seals appear at Sandy Hook, most often when the seals will “haul out” of the water as a break from looking for food at sea. Neither my wife nor I had ever seen seals in the wild, so this had become our most recent quest. After a failed attempt a few weeks before Christmas, my wife had kept an eye on social media for reports of seal activity. On our drive home from Wisconsin, somewhere in central Pennsylvania, my wife excitedly informed me that there had been seal activity spotted that very day. We decided then and there to try again… and this time, we succeeded.

Let’s begin:

The Seals of Sandy Hook

Map of Lower New York Bay and Sandy Hook Bay, with red pin in location of Gateway National Recreation Area - Sandy Hook.
Our destination yet again: Gateway National Recreation Area – Sandy Hook, part of our amazing National Park system.
View of Atlantic Ocean from Route 36 in Highlands, New Jersey.
Ah, that view never gets old. Despite cloudy skies, we had a relatively nice day for our journey. With temperatures in the 40s, it felt positively balmy compared to a week in the Midwest, when temperatures struggled to reach the 20s.
Entrance to Gateway National Recreation Area - Sandy Hook, with a few cars passing through the entrance gate.
Arriving mid-morning, there was a bit more traffic than we usually see at Sandy Hook in the off-season. A little later in the day, we’d find out why.
2012 Honda Accord, parked by sand dune.
After spending over a week tucked away in the garage, it was good to get the Accord back on the road. I’m pretty sure my 2-door-coupe-beach-buggy was happy to get back to the shore as well!
Officer's Row at Sandy Hook.
My wife had read reports of seal activity off the shoreline by Officers’ Row in Fort Hancock, the decommissioned military base on Sandy Hook. Once the homes of officers and their families when Sandy Hook was a major military site, the homes have since fallen into disrepair, and have been battered by storms such as Hurricane Sandy. The National Park Service, lacking the funds to renovate all of the homes, has instead offered to lease them to private individuals, who then agree to renovate the buildings – it is pretty easy to see the homes that have begun the renovation process (via National Park Service).
Seal nose bobbing out of water, with other seal heads in background.
After waiting almost a half hour and spotting no activity, we were about to give up and head home when a small nose emerged from the water… and soon several of its friends began appearing as well!
Seal head sticking out of water.
Success!!
Seal laying on rock, with the rock not visible beneath the water.
We quickly surmised that as the tide receded, the seals were positioning themselves where they knew the rocks would be. Seals “haul out” periodically in order to regulate their body temperature, interact with other seals, avoid predators, give birth, and nurse seal pups (via NOAA). We decided to take a walk and come back once the tide had receded a bit further.
Immature bald eagle in flight.
I snapped a few photos of a large bird circling overhead, figuring it was probably a vulture. Only after downloading the photo to my computer did I realize we had spotted an immature bald eagle in the wild!
Immature bald eagle in flight.
Compared to the two bald eagles I photographed in Wisconsin a few days prior, this immature bald eagle is still transitioning into its adult plumage. Based on some readings, I’d estimate this eagle to be about 3-4 years old (via Avian Report).
Seals emerging from water, on rocks that are just submerged.
By the time we walked back, the seals had begun to congregate!!
Seals on rocks that are just submerged below surface.
Researchers have determined that harbor seals “haul out” typically in a window of two hours before and two hours after high tide (via National Institute of Health). Seals will often look for locations to haul out where they can quickly return to deeper water in the event of attack by land predators.
Seal swimming in foreground, while seals in background rest on rocks.
My wife observed that it seemed like the more experienced seals knew to preposition themselves on the best rocks as the tide receded, leaving other seals to swim about to look for a good spot.
Seal in center of group trying to reach top of rock.
While agile swimmers, out of the water seals aren’t the most graceful of mammals. The pelvic bones of a seal are fused, so they can’t use their hind flippers to help them maneuver on land. Instead, they have to move in an undulating motion – think of someone doing the “worm” dance at a wedding reception (via NOAA). We watched the seal in the center struggle for a good five minutes to try to climb onto the rock before finally succeeding.
Group of seals perched on rock.
The typical seal “hauling out” position features the animal laying on its side with both its head and flippers elevated, forming a banana-shape. We had a great time watching the seals congregate!
Crowds of people along shoreline, watching seals.
Spotting the seals at Sandy Hook is a popular pastime – check out all the people who had gathered to view them! One word about watching seals – hauling out sites can be negatively impacted by human interference, so when watching seals, bring a good zoom lens or a set of binoculars and keep a respectful distance!
Exit for Jon Bon Jovi Service Area
On the way home, we made an interesting discovery – what had been the Cheesequake Service Area along the Garden State Parkway has been renamed the Jon Bon Jovi Service Area! This is part of a new effort by the state to rename nine of the Garden State Parkway service areas after famous NJ residents, such as James Gandolfini, Frank Sinatra, Whitney Houston, and Bon Jovi (via Vermilion County First). 
Car odometer reading 188607 TRIP A 270.1
And back home! The Accord had no problem shaking off its week-long hibernation, and the journey to 200,000 miles has resumed – onward!!

Automotive Updates

Before closing, I wanted to offer a pair of mileage updates from a vehicle in my garage, and another that’s deep in the heart of Texas.

Car odometer reading 189000 TRIP A 135.3
A week after our Sandy Hook trip, my Accord crossed another mile mark: 189,000 is now in the books! Less than 11,000 miles until the big 200k!
Car odometer reading 890000 TRIP A 282.3
Meanwhile, my friend Justin keeps pushing his 2003 Accord EX-L V6 coupe to stratospheric mileage heights… less than 10,000 miles until the big 900,000! Wow!

Wrapping Up

Over the past six months, Sandy Hook has been very, very good for spotting wildlife! During the summer, we saw a humpback whale swimming off the coast. On this trip, we finally spotted seals. Add to it deer, eagles, heron, osprey, and hawks, and this national park remains one of our favorite local destinations for exploring nature. Gateway National Recreation Area – Sandy Hook is open daily from 6:00 am – 8:00 pm. While there is no entrance fee to the park, there is a parking fee from Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day for all vehicle traffic.

Thanks for coming along on this special seal-sighting adventure along the open road ahead.

’Til next time.

2 thoughts on “The Seals of Sandy Hook.

  1. Neat pics of the seals and bald Eagle! I didn’t know there were seals in this area! Really interesting! You really find some interesting things to see and write about!

    Liked by 1 person

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