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Black Dots Make Me Smile

Good morning everyone. Happy Ground Hogs Day to all. If today’s forecast comes true folklore tells us we will see an early spring here in our neighborhood. What does the groundhog say about your weather forecast? We start a new month, albeit a short one but a month in which we gain an emotionally crucial 1 hour and 13 minutes of light. By months end the sunrise will be at 0620, a full 37 minutes ahead of this morning. Jen and I were shocked how light it was so early yesterday even though it was overcast. So while the weather is one thing we spend much time talking about the light is what really makes the psychic difference here.

One of the things you will find me talking about in blogs, especially in summer, is seals. We have more lousy, unfocused pictures of little black dots on the ledges and every one of them makes me smile. Each picture reminds us how delighted we are to see seals. Harbor seals (phoca vitulina) are the most common seal here in Maine and their numbers have grown from about 5,800 in the early 70s to a number estimated to be well over 100,000 based on a 2001 census. Their recovery since the Marine Mammal Protection Act is fantastic. Maybe a little too good if you ask some local fisherman. So where do all these seals go in the winter? The easy answer is south. Yes, they migrate. We do see a very few here in the winter but a vast majority of seals appear to head for the waters south of here and evidently the south shore of Cape Cod. The largest congregations appear around Monomoy Island near the “elbow” at Chatham. Some seals head as far south as the Carolinas! During one study seals from Penobscot Bay were tagged and tracked directly to the area around the Monomoy Island National Wildlife Refuge. The waters south of Cape Cod do not appear to my untrained eye to be any warmer than they are here in Maine at this time of year but certainly the duration of cold south of the Cape is shorter than here in Maine. The ocean temperature along the coast has hovered around 38 degrees just outside the bays and the air temperature has been well below the average Cape Cod temperature.

Perhaps it is the undisturbed wildlife refuge that draws them? Could they be following their food source? Our naturalist/researcher friends Erika and Ethan Rhile who sail on our late June Naturalist/Photography Cruise rescue stranded seals in southern Maine so we know that some seals stay around or migrate here from Canada. The research I have come across raises as many questions as it does answers. What I do know is that I look forward to seeing them return in great numbers each spring with pups in tow. And once again we’ll be taking tons of pictures of little black dots on the ledges, reminders to be thankful to experience such a wonderful and wild place.

Have a great day. Be well. Do good.

P.S. We do get lucky to get really close to seals sometimes as you can see from this photo that Jen took in Stonington with a 300mm zoom lens. The little hole just behind the eye is actually the seals’s ear. Click on the photo to see an enlarged version. How cool is that!

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