It seems as though Wednesdays are the most eventful days here on Ship Island. Last Wednesday was spent scouring the island for Garlic Mustard plants. This Wednesday was a whirlwind of events. Not only did we find our very first tern nest but it also contained our first egg! Along with that our island supervisor Meredith spotted a roseate tern while we were sitting in the blinds.
Aside from this tern excitement we had two seal encounters right on the shores of our island! I found this so exciting because usually when observing the seals we must do so with a spotting scope to see them on the East and West Barges. However during our blind observation on Wednesday we had an adult seal haul out on to our beach and spend a little time sunning itself.
In our area we have two species of seals, western Atlantic harbor seals, and grey seals. The best way to tell them apart is by looking at their heads. Harbor seals have more of a smaller dog nose with not much of a neck and grey seals have larger ‘horse like’ faces and a more pronounced neck. The seals I’ve most often observed were the western Atlantic harbor seals on East Barge. This is also what we had come visit us Wednesday morning. Later in the day when all the work around the island is complete is when I enjoy observing our seals– mainly because right now is their peak pupping time (mid May to July), so we seem to have new pups arriving everyday. On this ever so faithful Wednesday evening I got the privilege of observing a very new harbor seal mom with her pup (I could tell he had just been born as some of the birthing organs were still attached).
What surprised me most though was this new mother promptly lead her new pup into the ocean. This is surprising because everything I’ve read about harbor seals says the pups can’t swim till at least an hour after birth, and here this moms bringing her pup in minutes after birth. Almost immediately after entering the water our new mom brought her pup further into the water (toward Ship I.). This was in order to bring her pup further away from the other seals. So I packed up my things and headed back to the cabin assuming the days excitement was over. Upon returning to the cabin I saw that Meredith had left on a photography adventure. A few minutes after that I received a text from stating there was a pup on our shore. Sprinting to meet her, she showed me what she had found: sure enough sitting atop the seaweed was a pup.
Shortly after looking at the pup longer, and seeing a small piece of umbilical cord, I realized this was the seal pup I had been watching only 20 minutes prior. Meredith and I proceeded to sneak away as not to scare off the mother wherever she may be. Most of the time mothers don’t leave their pups because they need to be together for 4-6 weeks so the pup can nurse. Pups can also be vulnerable to some predators. After dinner Meredith and I went along the islands edge to check up on our young visitor. What we found was his mother hauling out of the ocean to retrieve her new baby. We quickly snuck away so we didn’t disturb them, thus ending another successful Wednesday on Ship Island.
Till next week,
Kelby Leary Ship Island Crew Member