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Harbor Seal

Did You Know?

A harbor seal floating on a piece of floating ice
Harbor seal Phoca vitulina (Photo: US Fish and
Wildlife Service)
  • Harbor seals are the most abundant seals found in New York State.
  • Their average dive time is three minutes, although they can stay under water for up to 30 minutes!
  • Harbor seals have a thick, insulating layer of blubber. They can slow blood flow to their skin to keep from losing heat to the cold water or air.
  • Their large eyes, acute hearing, and sensitive whiskers help them hunt for prey.
  • They have no tears, but mucus continuously washes over their eyes to protect them from saltwater. When on land, this mucus gives them a teary-eyed appearance.

    watchable wildlife binoculars iconWhat to watch for:

    Size:

    Male harbor seals average 5-5 ½ feet in length and weigh 200-250 pounds. Females are typically smaller, about 4 ½ to 5 feet in length and weigh 150-200 pounds.

    Appearance:

    The head and upper body of a harbor seal
    Photo: NOAA

    A rounded body with a spotted coat ranging from silver-gray to black or dark brown. They lack external ear flaps and have fan-shaped flippers.

    Where to watch:

    They spend their time in coastal oceanic waters and can be found basking on sand bars, rocks, or remote beaches during low tide within estuaries, bays, and rivers. When resting in water, their heads bob at the surface resembling a floating bottle and thus is termed "bottling."

    When to watch:

    The best times to watch harbor seals in New York are during the day from early winter (November) and into spring (May).
    When watching seals, stay back about 150 feet in order to prevent unnecessary stress and abandonment of their basking sites. Approaching seals can cause them to feel threatened and they may bite. If a seal appears injured and in need of help, keep your distance and report to the NYS Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Program at 631-369-9829.

    More information about Harbor Seals:

    Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Program (Offsite link, leaving DEC website)
    Seal Walks (Offsite link, leaving DEC website) - Go watch seals at their favorite haul out sites on an adventurous and educational seal walk with an expert from the Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island.

    The best places to see Harbor Seals:

    Cupsogue Beach State Park, Suffolk County, Long Island
    East and West Shinnecock County Park, Suffolk County, Long Island
    Fire Island National Seashore, Suffolk County, Long Island
    Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Queens County
    Montauk Point State Park, Suffolk County, Long Island (offsite link, leaving DEC website)

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