We decided to spend Christmas at the beach this year. It was glorious. We rented a nice oceanside beach house on the Outer Banks, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, taking advantage of off-season prices. I took a number of sunrise photos. It was only natural because I got up early every day. I took the photo above the last morning. Nice, huh? Look on the left side, near the waterline. I didn’t see this when I first took the photo.
As I admired the view, I finally noticed it. At first, I thought it was a large piece of driftwood. Then I figured it was a large dead fish. Then I noticed what looked like whiskers.
“Oh, great,” I thought to myself, “A dead seal on our last day!”
I kept trying to comprehend what I was seeing; then it happened. The tail flippers moved ever so slightly.
“Even better, a dying seal on our last day.”
The tide was coming in. I checked it on-line. High Tide was in about an hour. I could see the waves extending a little more up the sand every few minutes. The seal raised its head once.
Then a flock of seagulls came up and started a wide circle around the deck and the shore, including the seal. In my mind, they were focused on the body.
“I’m not going to stand here and watch breakfast being served.”
So I tromped out into the sand, in my shorts and croc-style clogs; not my sand footgear of choice. I was intent on at least inspecting it with a bit more detail before I called somebody. It was a bit chilly and the sand at the end of the deck was deep and loose, so I made my way toward the body with some difficulty. Somewhere between fifty and a hundred feet from it the status changed. Forgive me for being less-than-accurate because what happened next greatly diverted my attention.
My approach caused the seal to suddenly perk up. It looked up, then turned toward the water. It looked back and then started its funny seal-walk toward the waiting waves. It wasn’t dead or sick … it must have been sleeping!
I fumbled with the phone in my pocket and quickly fired up my camera, and caught these shots of the rush for safety.
The entire sequence of events took maybe thirty seconds. It was a rare and remarkable nature sighting and for me, it seemed to last much longer.
Finally, all that was left was this:
I saw it one more time, about twenty feet out, its little head poking out of the water, probably wondering what the heck happened and who the heck had barged into the room.
Since then, I’ve learned a bit more about seal sightings along the North Carolina coast. In the winter, seals move south, down the coast. A few go as far as NC, some even make it down to South Carolina. It’s a rare thing to see, but not unusual. A lone seal like this is not unusual either. The young ones, probably teen-agers in seal years, often take off on their own. Being on the beach like this is not unusual either. It’s termed “hauling out” … and it is considered quite normal for seal behavior.
I did the wrong thing by approaching him. I had no idea. It turns out there is a number to call to report sightings … they would have told me what to do: just keep back and watch. This one was probably waiting for the tide to be the alarm clock. I did report the sighting after the fact, which is another thing they say to do.
Anyway, it was a great last day, and it was an awesome bookend for the year 2019.
Happy New Year.
BTW: Here’s a link with resources;
… I wish I had this available at the time: NOAA Link
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. Make 2020 the year you catch THE FEVER … read it and the other two books in the trilogy. You won’t be sorry.