Jersey Shore Hurricane News contributor Dan Beeler of DTB Photography braved the coastal chill Friday morning in the hope of seeing seals in the Sandy Hook Bay.
The frigid gamble paid off.
“After about a mile hike on the brutal 28 degree open bay this morning, into the 40 mph wind, I managed to capture a few shots of the harbor seals sunning themselves,” said Beeler, a Jersey Shore-based nature photographer.
Seals are common visitors to Sandy Hook during the winter, according to a National Park Service guide.
“Seals have a thick blubber layer which, combined with a fur coat, protects them in frigid climates,” the service notes, adding that they “spend most of their lives in the water but come on land to give birth, raise their young and to molt.”
Marine mammals are federally protected. Over the last decade, the seal population has grown dramatically in Sandy Hook, according to the service.
The seal population at the Jersey Shore peaks in February, which is likely due to an increase in seals in New England, sending the young further south, according to Joe Reynolds of Shore11.org.
Reynolds also cites the seasonal arrival of millions of herring as another reason for the late winter spike, adding that they “usually eat up to eight to 10 pounds of food a day, so they will go where the food is most abundant.”
He explains why seals “haul out” from the water:
In Sandy Hook Bay, Harbor Seals are more likely to haul out at low tide during sunny days to warm up their bodies under the energy of the sun. While on land, Harbor Seals rarely move from one location. They remain alert and wary, and turn their heads frequently to watch for potential danger. When alarmed, the group of resting Harbor Seals will quickly rush into the water in a matter of seconds.
People must stay 100 feet away from seals, who are carnivores with sharp teeth, according to the National Park Service.
See more of Beeler’s photos here.