Posted by: ecckayak | December 6, 2011

December on the Marsh

The days have shortened and the sun looms lower in the sky. No one is on the water on this December 5th day, except a few flocks of buffleheads close to the shore, winter fowl bobbing in the surf off in the distance, and lucky commercial clammers, including my dear friend Paul Dunne, still able to work the flats during this unseasonably warm weather. Pushing off from the landing at Hemenway Road, Eastham, the first paddle stroke is always the finest of the day, a stroke of balance and release, nature purging the pressures of work.

Rounding the bend into Cable Creek the incoming tide pushes progress backwards. One thing about Nauset Marsh, the landings are on the west side and the deep water is east. After fifteen minutes of “treadmill” like paddling, the inlet to the ocean is in sight, the hard part of the paddle will cease to exhaust arms and limps, as the bow catches the incoming tide for the remainder of the paddle. I am out here to count the seals. A couple of weeks ago I was the only one out here, and shocked to see the great numbers of grey seals migrating into the marsh. In fourteen years on this marsh, I had never encountered such a large population of these carnivorous marine mammals. Labeling the grey and harbor seal carnivorous is extreme, I don’t ever feel like I am in jeoporady of being eating alive, and I paddle amongst them almost everyday.  They have had plenty of opportunity, if they so chose, to devour me for lunch. They belong to the suborder of pinniped, “fin-footed” or “wing-footed” mammals. As I have studied their behavior, up close, on the water, and hauled out, over the years, I can definitely see the link in evolution, to bears.

Swinging the kayak south, from the inlet, being swept down a channel that parallels the ‘locals only’ side of Nauset Beach, bobbing heads of seals start to appear in the distance. Usually the seals are by the inlet, catching flounder and striped bass as the fish move in and out of the marsh with the ebb and flow of moving water. Often groups of grey seals position themselves at the entrance of the narrowing channel in the inlet, and devour whatever tries to get past their open mouths. The fish have left the marsh, no boat traffic nor disturbance, this time of year the seals migrate south to the bars usually occupied by a half dozen clammers raking out steamers and quahog clams.

It’s interesting, though, that we call a large group of seals by any one of a number of names. Whales are simple grouped in a bod. However, groups of seals may be in a pod too, but may also be called a herd or colony. So take your pick. I like the term herd, it reminds me of buffalos in the wild west.

Signs of climate change are everywhere. There is more water in the marsh. Less flounder, as habitats of eel grass have been threatened. Yet, as I started to count the males first, since they are bigger, the seals certainly look well fed, not like they have missed a meal.  Grey seals are easily distinguished from harbor seals, not only are they much bigger in size, the grey seal has a horselike head. The male 8 feet in length may weight up to 800 pounds. Today, paddling by, it seems there are more males than females in this herd. That is not always the norm, the males often hold court over a harem of females, constantly circling the family for protection. And though the breeding season for grey seals runs from late September through early Marsh , there are 17 young pups huddled today within the large herd, protected by both male and female.

Sand bar extends, long and flat, undulating mounds pushed by winds into the narrow channel, an edge carved into a cliff-like plateau. The swift current draws the kayak towards the hauled out herd, the smell and characteristic breathing of grey seals is repulsive and the sound haunting. The innate curiosity, their big brown eyes, stare me down. Most times, they would  take refuge in the water, popping back up, some fifty yards away, like black dots, surfacing, at a safe distance. Not today though. A surveillance party of only seven very large males approached me from the shore, the remaining 123 seals simply held their ground on the bar. Which made it much easier to count them all. Have you ever tried to count a bunch of black dots swimming, diving, resurfacing, splashing? It’s a not easy.

Eventually they all calm down, with the wind shift, and I continued on my way, with the tide, into the channel, through the hole-in-the-wall, past Snow Shore and Fort Hill, to Hemenway Road Landing where now, the clammers had left, and my truck remained solo awaiting my return. 12/6/2011

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: