Harp seal a special New Year’s Day visitor at the beach

A harp seal that pulled up onto Tower Beach in Delaware Seashore State Park on New Year’s Day. Submitted photos

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a fun holiday break, now it is back to the grind.

New Year’s Day was 67 degrees, nothing like a mild summer day teaser for the first day of the new year. There were people all over the beaches exploring, looking for shells and treasures, and of course surf fishing. Holding bottom was a chore with six ounces of weight.

The surfers were digging the waves at the Indian River Inlet and Ocean City, anglers not so much. We did have one special visitor that spent the day relaxing and trying to catch some rays on a cloudy day.

A harp seal pulled up onto the beach in Delaware Seashore State Park at Tower Beach. That is the one just below Dewey where the fire tower is now lit up blue and the bathhouse is located. We contacted MERR, the Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute in Lewes, and their volunteers came out and kept an eye on this little fella. Harp seals, grey seals migrate to Delaware every winter, and will stay here as late as mid-April.

Rob Rector, a volunteer for MERR the last 15 years, arrived and we helped him keep people at a safe distance. Not only is that necessary for the seal, but people as well. Seals are mammals and they can carry diseases and bacteria that can transfer to humans. Contact with them is not a good idea, and consequently illegal. Rob is good people and great asset to MERR, I had a good time trading stories while he waited for the rest of his volunteers.

MERR will create a perimeter and keep people away so as not to disturb this seal while it is resting.

“Nine out of ten times they pull up onto a beach to rest and digest their food. This one looks like it is just resting and is fine.”
Suzanne Thurman, our executive director, messaged me and confirmed it is a harp seal.

“It is not a juvenile as it has lost all of its fur.”

I took some close-up shots for MERR with Rob’s supervision. Using the camera with the big lens, we could see anywhere it may be injured without intruding its space too much.

“It looks close to adult age, seemed ambulatory and a good size. It is very alert and we are not concerned for its health. No worries!”

Ambulatory means it was very active and happy.

If you see a seal on a beach or anywhere, you can contact MERR by texting the location to 302.228.5029. They will come out and check the seal and make sure it is not distressed or sick and then keep people away so it can rest and digest. I mean who seriously wants to be disturbed during an afternoon nap after a killer holiday meal. If the seal pulled up due to sickness or distress, MERR will evaluate the situation and capture it for rehabilitation, but only if necessary.

Snow geese

While we were watching the seal, thousands upon thousands of snow geese flew out to the ocean in front of Dewey Beach and set up for their daily rafting. It is pretty wild to see an acre or two of snow geese on the ocean. When they were off Cape Henlopen a few days ago I didn’t have a wide enough lens to take a picture of the entire raft it was huge. You can hear them over the waves and on a calm wave day they drown out the sound of crashing waves.

Snow geese landing on the ocean to start their usual day of rafting in front of Dewey Beach.

Hunters have been blasting away at waterfowl all week. With the holidays mid-week and extra days off there were more opportunities for the hunters to get out there. I was very entertained watching people on Facebook community pages ask why it sounds like Armageddon in the marshes behind their communities. When these boys start shooting they really start shooting. Good times.

Outdoorsman Marketplace

Don’t forget to come check out the Millville Volunteer Fireman’s Outdoorsman Marketplace on Jan. 12 at the Millville Fire Hall from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. We have added a few more outdoor vendors. Lot of fishing gear from fresh to salt and the long wands (fly fishing), hunting supplies, firearms, boats, RVS, nautical crafts, and much much more. Entry is $3, children under 14 are free and will receive their own door prize tickets.

Alivia Porman, 9, caught this nice striped bass with her dad fishing off Fenwick Island … Photo from Scott Porman

Offshore action for the boats has been good for tautog and sea bass. Striped bass fishing has been hit or miss and mostly miss. Anglers are finding fish, but having to put in some work for them. Personally I think this just reflects on the numbers of fish actually out there, but also shows that the amount of bait the bass have to feed on is serious competition for anglers. I anxiously await the striped bass stock assessment coming out soon.

Reef report

Captain Monty Hawkins of the Morning Star out of Ocean City and head of the OC Reef Foundation put out his reef report. They are always looking for donations and help.

“We began construction of Capt. Greg Hall’s Memorial Reef on December 26th by sinking a 55 x 22 foot barge at Russel’s Reef about five miles SE OC Inlet. The barge was sunk with another mooring line made fast ensuring the next barge goes down alongside. With a little luck we’ll put three barges there.

“Still awaiting a 3-day stretch of perfect weather to bring the 130-foot barge up from Chesapeake Bay to deploy at Jackspot Reef. Both the tug and barge are in position near the mouth of the bay — we will grab the next weather window. Looks like this coming week. This 130-footer will make a great addition to Jackspot. Naming rights are available for a $5,000.00 donation. We need eyes on the waterfront — folks looking for reef — especially for barges nearing their final tow.

“If it still floats, and we can contact who owns it, there’s a possibility we could reef it. Cleaning a ship to EPA specs is brutally expensive. We’re on a low budget! Barges, however, rarely need cleaning at all.”

Rich King’s outdoors column runs Thursdays in the Delaware State News.

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