Looking for a Unique Winter Activity? Go Seal-Spotting & Birding Cruises

Cruise out onto Long Island Sound with The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk this winter in hopes of seeing some of the seals and birds that spend the colder months just off Connecticut’s shores.

The Maritime Aquarium’s 2020 season of “Seal-Spotting & Birding Cruises” offers outings on many Saturdays and Sundays now through April 12.

Dates and departure times vary by low tide. The next cruises are on Sat., Jan. 18 at 11 a.m. and on Sun., Jan. 19 at noon.  For the full schedule, go to www.maritimeaquarium.org.

A clownfish takes refuge in an anemone, in an exhibit in The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. Unlike most fish, clownfish are immune to the stings of anemones. Photo (c) Maritime Aquarium

These invigorating 2½-hour cruises seek out some of the harbor seals and gray seals that annually migrate down into Long Island Sound from their summer breeding and pupping areas off Cape Cod and the Gulf of Maine. (Harbor seals are the same species featured in The Maritime Aquarium.)

“Having so many seals come into the Sound is the positive result of the federal protections on seals, which have enabled their populations to increase, as well as of the broad work to improve the health of the Sound, making it an enticing winter habitat for the seals.”

Dave Sigworth, the Aquarium’s associate director of communications
A juvenile longhorn cowfish, one of the animals displayed in “Untouchables,” a new exhibit of toxic and venomous creatures, in The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. When stressed or threatened, these fish can release a unique and deadly toxin. Photo (c) Maritime Aquarium

During the Aquarium cruises, seals often can be seen near the Norwalk islands resting on rocks and shoals exposed at low tide. Aquarium educators will point out these federally protected marine mammals and talk about their natural histories.

“Many people are surprised that seals visit the Sound, because the seals are only here during winter when boaters aren’t out there,” Sigworth said. “It’s a thrill to see them, and a motivating reminder that the Sound is a thriving natural resource worthy of our protection.”

The cruises also give birders unique “on-the-water” access to see and photograph visiting winter waterfowl, such as buffleheads, mergansers, Brant geese and long-tailed ducks.

A unique perspective on the stalked eyes of a baby winter flounder. The eyes can move independently to help the fish watch for prey and predators. Even cooler: a flounder doesn’t start life as a flatfish. Shortly after hatching, one eye moves across its head and the flounder will spend the rest of its life on its side. With summer flounder, the right eye moves so they are “left-eyed” flounder. With winter flounder, the left eye moves so they are “right-eyed.” Photo (c) Maritime Aquarium

“Seal-Spotting and Birding Cruises” take place aboard The Maritime Aquarium’s R/V Spirit of the Sound, the country’s first research vessel with quiet hybrid-electric propulsion. R/V Spirit of the Sound has a climate-controlled cabin but, because the best viewing is outside on the deck, participants should dress for the weather. Binoculars will be provided, along with hot chocolate and coffee.

Also during each cruise, participants can help Aquarium educators with plankton samplings. Data collected during the cruises is added to the Long Island Sound Biodiversity Project, which is an ongoing census of the Sound’s animal species. This online database, sponsored by the Aquarium, makes data on the physical and biological contents of Long Island Sound available to students, educators and researchers.

The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk’s new research vessel, R/V Spirit of the Sound. As the world’s only research vessel with hybrid-electric propulsion, R/V Spirit of the Sound is bigger, quieter and greener than the Aquarium’s previous research vessel. Photo (c) Maritime Aquarium

The Maritime Aquarium’s cruises offer memorable family fun but please note that all passengers must be at least 42 inches tall.

Tickets for a “Seal-Spotting & Birding Cruise” are $31.50, or $26.50 for Aquarium members.

Capacity is limited so advance reservations are strongly recommended. Walk-up tickets will be sold, space permitting. Reserve your spot by calling (203) 852-0700, ext. 2206, or by going online to www.maritimeaquarium.org.

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