Seals in NY Harbor: Who Woulda Thunk?

By Brian Thompson
|  Wednesday, Dec 30, 2009  |  Updated 7:32 PM EDT
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Seals at Sandy Hook

NBCNewYork

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Seals at Sandy Hook

Call it their winter retreat. Seals are claiming the waters off Sandy Hook as a second home. Find out what brings them here.
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From open sewer to an environmental wonderland, the recovery of New York Harbor means now the seals are back.

And we're not talking about Heidi Klum's husband.

"The magic is seeing the seals," said amateur photographer Doug Krampert as he snapped photos of a group of seven seals basking in the winter sun off Sandy Hook, NJ.

In fact, there are now hundreds of seals regularly wintering in the waters of New York Harbor and Long Island Sound, according to the Riverhead Foundation. And one seal was spotted last year all the way up the Hudson River near Albany.

South of New York, in New Jersey's Barnegat Bay, the Brigantine-based Marine Mammal Stranding Center says it has counted as many as 150 seals wintering in the seafood-rich waters sheltered primarily by Long Beach Island.

 "The most I've seen was last year, about 45-50 seals," said Joe Reynolds, Co-Chairman of the Bayshore Watershed Council, of sightings back in New York Harbor and Sandy Hook Bay

Reynolds and other environmentalists say the key to the animals' return in recent years has been the cleanup of New York Harbor, and the resulting increase in fish and other marine creatures that seals like to dine on.

"It was dirty, it was nasty, it smelled bad and no marine life wanted to come and enjoy this area," said Cindy Zipf of Clean Ocean  Action, an advocacy group that was a leading force in ending dumping of toxic waste in the ocean waters just a few miles from the entrance to the harbor.

Now, environmentalists say the challenge is to finish the cleanup job, including fertilizers from lawns and farms that wash into rivers, and then the harbor. They're also fighting several plans to build large islands just offshore for the transfer of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) from foreign countries.

"What we shouldn't be doing is building industrial ocmplexes which are proposed off our costs, not blundering back into the dark ages," said Zipf.

Experts say the seals will winter in New York's waters until April, when they'll head to home waters in New England to spend the rest of the year.

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