NORWALK, CT — The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk will begin its annual season of "Seal-Spotting & Birding Cruises" on Long Island Sound in January.
According to a news release, guests are invited to join an invigorating winter adventure in search of Long Island Sound's flippered and feathered visitors by coming along on these cruises.
Offered on many weekends between Jan. 8 and April 10, these two-hour cruises will seek out some of the seals and waterfowl that annually migrate into Long Island Sound for the winter.
"There's only one thing more exciting than getting close to the seals that live in the Maritime Aquarium and that’s seeing seals in their natural habitat out in Long Island Sound," aquarium spokesman Dave Sigworth said in a news release. "These encounters are a motivating reminder that the Sound is an important, thriving natural resource worthy of our protection."
For more than two decades, harbor seals and gray seals have been migrating into the Sound from their summer breeding and pupping areas off Cape Cod and the Gulf of Maine, Sigworth said.Harbor seals, the same species featured in the Maritime Aquarium, often go unnoticed because they come and go when most boaters are not out on the water.
"That these federally protected animals return here regularly in seemingly strong numbers," Sigworth said, "indicates that conservation efforts are working – for the seals, and also for the Sound itself to support enough fish and other prey to attract and sustain so many seals."
During each cruise, aquarium educators will point out the seals and talk about their natural histories. They'll also help identify migratory birds that winter on the Sound, such as buffleheads, mergansers, Brant geese and long-tailed ducks, Sigworth said.
Dates and departure times vary so the cruises can occur at low tide, when the seals often haul out of the water to rest on exposed rocks and shoals. Initial dates are: Jan. 8 at 9 a.m., Jan. 9 at 10 a.m. and Jan. 29 at 2 p.m.
In addition, special "Birding Cruises" devoted exclusively to giving birders on-the-water access to the winter waterfowl, are planned for April 2 and 3. These 90-minute outings both depart at 9:30 a.m., Sigworth said.
All Maritime Aquarium cruise passengers must be at least 42 inches tall. Guests under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
The aquarium's unique hybrid-electric research vessel RV Spirit of the Sound has a climate-controlled cabin but, because the best viewing is outside on deck, participants should dress for the weather, Sigworth said.
Tickets are $34 or $30 for aquarium members. Space is limited, so advance reservations are strongly recommended. Walk-up tickets will be sold, space permitting, Sigworth said.
A limited number of binoculars will be available, however guests are encouraged to bring their own. Masks may be required of all participants, Sigworth said.
To check the latest COVID requirements aboard the boat, see the full cruise schedule or reserve tickets, go to www.maritimeaquarium.org.