Friday, March 31, 2006

In the News: Swimmers From the North Delight Scientists and Sightseers

Efforts to clean up the often neglected NY - NJ Harbor Estuary have increasingly shown benefits for people and wildlife alike. Over the past five years, one particularly noticeable marine mammal, the harbor seal, has visited the region with more and more regularity. Recently, several seals were spotted off Hoffman and Swinburne Islands in the lower New York Harbor/Bay. The question that many scientists continue to ask though is, "are the harbor seals visiting with more frequency because of improved water and habitat quality and, if so, what pollutants are they being exposed to when visiting the highly urbanized waters of our estuary?" The results of studies looking into those questions will take some time to come to light, but in the meanwhile scientists and local residents are enjoying the presence of this charismatic species in our waters writes the NY Times. JB

By Andy Newman
Published: March 25, 2006

The inhabitants of Hoffman and Swinburne Islands, man-made piles in Lower New York Bay off Staten Island, have tended to be there not because they particularly want to be, but because they have to.

In the 19th century, the islands were a holding area for new immigrants feared to be carrying diseases. Later, they housed soldiers with venereal disease, quarantined parrots and, until the 1940's, merchant marines in training.

But yesterday the 20 plump bathers lazing on rocks in front of ruined hospital buildings and paddling the flat waters off Swinburne had come of their own free will, and they seemed to be having a fine time. And for the scientists and students on a nearby boat, this was a very good thing.

The bathers were harbor seals, bewhiskered 250-pound ambassadors from the icy north, and they appeared as oblivious to the traffic whizzing by on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge two miles away as the drivers above were to them.

A few seals were first noticed on the islands in 2001, after decades of absence from New York Harbor. But as the seal population along the Atlantic coast has continued to recover and their wintering range has extended southward, the seasonal seals of Swinburne have returned and flourished.


CRESLI harbor seal page

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