Whales, Seals and Sharks!

It promises to be great year for sea animals on Cape Cod. Already we have had record numbers of whales feeding off the cape coming closer to land than in recent memory. Now in the news are reports of Great White sightings.

This is not unusual. I chased the Great Whites all last summer without success but it is early in the year for them. Normally they come in search of the seals that live and play on the beaches and barrier islands of Cape Cod. They prefer it when the water has had a chance to warm up a little but the really large sharks can tolerate the cooler temperatures. The reports seem to indicate that this was a large one, 18-20 ft and 2000+ lbs!

The latest news report said the Great White was circling a whale that had become entangled in fishing gear. The Woods Hole people have since towed the whale carcase away to exam it to determine cause of death…could it be its entanglement or the shark? I’m sure we’ll hear more about this as the season progresses.

Speaking of seals, I recently found out that there are 4 different species of seals that like to visit the cape. I was aware of 2.

The big-headed gray seals are also the largest in size of the 4 species. It’s been said that their heads look like horse heads and I guess that’s true. Gray seals are year round residents. Naturalists say that the resident population on the cape is in the thousands. The colony in Chatham is certainly large and boisterous. Gray seals were on the decline because of over hunting until 1972 when the Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed. Removing that pressure has allowed their population to increase dramatically.

The 2nd species of seal that is a familiar sight on the cape is the one we think of at the aquarium. They have a cute upturned muzzle and are smaller than the grays. While the grays are said to look like horses these seals are most often compared to cocker spaniels. These little cuties are the curious Harbor seals.

Both the Gray Seals and the Harbor seals will interact with boaters. They swim up  to the boat and pop up out of the water to stare. Curiosity is certainly a trait they share with us humans.

The other 2 species are more rare. I don’t think I’ve ever seen either one in the wild. The first is the Harp seal which gets its name from the distinctive dark wish-bone shaped pattern against a silver-white coat. When you see all of those horrible posters protesting the seal hunts with the baby white coated seals about to be clubbed, you are looking at baby harp seals. The Cape seems to get the “in-between” harp seals. Still juveniles they are too old for the creamy white coat and too young for the silver-gray with the harp pattern. Most have a light-colored coat with irregular blotches of brown.

Last but not least is the Hooded Seal. These seals are the most rare of the 4 species. They, along with the Harp seal, are considered “ice seals” because they prefer to live on the pack ice of the Arctic. Still the long stretches of secluded shoreline and abundant sea food make Cape Cod an attractive place for these seals to visit.

I think it’s safe to say that as long as the seals keep coming to Cape Cod we will be hearing of Great White Sharks patrolling our shores. I can see I will have many entertaining hours to look forward to this summer on the Cape.

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  1. Great Whites love seals for lunch and dinner. Nice pictures. Just happy that I don’t swim out on the Cape. Nope don’t want to see and sharks while I am in any water.

    • Last year they closed some of the beaches because of the Great White sightings. Seems like it’s becoming more common. I don’t have any desire to swim with them but I’d like to see one from a boat or the shore.

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