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Viewers observe the harbor seals with binoculars. (credit: Felicia LaLomia)

It was a cold, bitter Monday morning. Most people were just getting up for work or staying snuggled in their beds. 

But a group of about a dozen people began their week at Stony Brook Marine Station in Southampton. They shuffled onto a boat, open to the elements, and took the hour boat ride out into the Shinnecock Bay. It wasn’t long before they spotted what they were there to see. 

Off in the distance, gray dots broke up the horizon. As the boat moved closer, the dots turned into oblong shapes and then morphed into moving ovals on a sandbar. Finally, they came into view: seals, nearly 90 of them.Shaped like a banana, their back fins were in the air their noses stuck up in the wind.

“That’s normal for them,” Robert DiGiovanni Jr. said to the group. “They keep their flippers together to regulate body temperature. Seals are also nearsighted, which means that if they’re looking at you, you’re on the beach and near them, you’re probably too close.”

This seal cruise, run by the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMSEAS) in partnership with Group for the East End is part of a series of cruises running through mid-April. The purpose is to educate people on the mammals and the conservation of the marine environment. Each cruise lasts two hours and is open weather, so they suggest you dress warm. 

“We want to go out there and hope that what you can get from this is a better understanding of what you can do, how to interact with wildlife and understand a little bit more of the changes that are going on with our environment,” said DiGiovanni, who founded AMSEAS in 2017.

Scientists at the organization regularly come across five different species of seals, but the most common is the harbor seal and all 88 observed that day were harbor seals. 

“The only job they have is hanging around, swimming and eating,” DiGiovanni said. “They don’t have to go to school or go to work, that’s their full-time job.”

In between questions and seal facts, people snapped photos with their phones or cameras or used the provided binoculars and telescope to get an up close look at the lounging animals.

“Did you guys think you were gonna see seals?” DiGiovanni said. 

“Not this many,” somebody replied.

“Well that’s good. I’m glad we got them all to come out.”

At the end of the tour, DiGiovanni encouraged people to clean up marine debris.

“We always want you to go out and help the environment, do whatever you can,” he said.

To sign up for a tour or to find out more, head to