As the first visitor to Stehli Beach in Bayville arrived around 9 a.m. Thursday, lifeguards Haydon Taylor and Eamonn Boyd made their way to the lifeguard stand to assume their post. That’s when they discovered that there was already a bathing beauty that slipped in before they arrived.
Directly in front of the lifeguard stand, a large, gray, harbor seal was basking in the sunshine a few feet from the shoreline of the Long Island Sound.
“When we got close it would turn it’s head, and then, we got too close and it went in the water,” said Boyd, 20, of Bayville.
The seal didn’t go far, though. A few minutes later it came back on the shore, crawling even higher up the beach than before.
By then, Taylor and Boyd had alerted fellow lifeguard Paige Gugerty, 16, to the sighting.
“It was yawning and rolling over,” said Gugerty, who snapped two photos of the seal with her cellphone. “It was really cute.”
It was the first time that Gugerty, a Bayville native, had seen a seal in her hometown. Seal sightings are not unheard of in Bayville, but they aren’t commonplace either, said Brian Devine, a spokesman for the Town of Oyster Bay, which operates Stehli Beach.
Allison Chaillet, a biologist with the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation in Riverhead, said harbor seals can be found in New York waters, more frequently in the winter months than in the summer months.
“There are known haul out sites in the Long Island Sound,” she said. “These sites tend to be rocky outcroppings or sandbars in the middle of bays that are unapproachable from land.”
Boyd said the only other time he saw one was last summer in Oyster Bay Harbor.
Devine said an environmental expert, not affiliated with the town, did stop by to assess the seal, and told the lifeguards not to touch it. He didn’t make contact either, the lifeguards said, but got pretty close. He didn’t see any visible signs that the seal was sick or injured, though, Devine said.
Chaillet also stressed the importance of giving seals plenty of space. She said that seals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which states that people must stay more than 50 yards away from marine mammals.
“These wild animals are very unpredictable, and can carry diseases,” she said, and encouraged anyone who does spot a seal on a local beach to dial 631-369-9829, the Riverhead Foundation’s 24 hour hotline, immediately.
A few minutes after the expert had left, the lifeguards said the seal, which had been lounging on the beach for close to an hour, also departed. They watched it slip back into the Long Island Sound and swim away just as a few busloads of children arrived.