“They’re resting,” explains Sette, who has been studying the seals off Truro since 2008. “Some are still molting (shedding their coat and growing a new one), and that is a stressful time for them. If they are wounded, they may haul out to heal as well. It’s basically their way of resting and healing.”
Early this summer, about 200 to 300 animals populated the haul-out, according to Sette, but as many as 600 may come. Mostly gray seals gather at the haul-out, although some smaller harbor seals are also seen there. Gray seals live year-round in Cape waters, while harbor seals mainly appear in large numbers late summer through spring. (The majority of adult harbor seals travel to the coasts of New Hampshire and Maine to have their pups and breed in the summer.)
Gray seals in southeastern Massachusetts waters now number more than 15,000, according to Gordon Waring, a research fishery biologist for NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole. But that wasn’t always the case. For years, the seals—the bane of commercial and recreational fishermen because of their taste for prized fish—had bounties on their heads. In fact, as recent as the 1980s, gray seals were a rare sight around the Cape and islands, Waring says. “The perception of seals from Europe was basically carried over to the colonies—that they were a nuisance, competition for fish, vermin,” Waring says. “There were all kinds of descriptions for them.”
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