Perfect Day at the Beach: Sun, Sand, Surf, Seals and Whales

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Last week I wrote about the 50th anniversary of Cape Cod’s National Seashore (CCNS). After spending another week in Provincetown, we had yet another reason to appreciate the foresight of John Kennedy in creating this protected coastal area in 1961. Guided by my wife’s aunt Joni—a university professor, global traveler and Provincetown homeowner— we took the kids to Head of Meadows Beach, just outside of North Truro.

It was a hot day and we hiked a good mile down the beach, far from the sunbathers, kayakers and surfers. It was a lot of effort, especially with kids in tow and the heat, but once we reached our destination, it was clear that the walk was well worth it. A colony of Atlantic Gray Seals had hauled out on a sandbar only a hundred feet or so offshore. Volunteers with the CCNS were on hand, making sure that no-one had any ill conceived ideas about wading out to approach the large mammals (according to Wikipedia, males weigh up to 880 pounds) and to offer up binoculars and information. The population on the sandbar was estimated at 600 individuals; from the sound they were making and the writhing masses, it certainly looked it. Fortune was truly on our side because as we watched, a pod of Humpback Whales was putting on a show a bit further out to sea, directly behind the seals. Although difficult to make out with the naked eye, with my telephoto lens (and the binoculars), the whales’ blow spouts and fins and could be clearly seen. When I checked my photos of the seals, nearly every other one had a whale clearly visible in the background. Given that we didn’t make it out on a boat for whale watching this visit, the experience was even more special.

Perfect day at the beach: seals and whales at Cape CodPerfect day at the beach: seals and whales at Cape Cod

Atlantic Gray Seals hauled up off Head of Meadows beach, wih Humpback Whale breaching in background. Photo by Brad Moon

My kids might not fully realize it at the moment, but those three hours in the sun were something that relatively few people have the opportunity to experience. A BBC documentary or even visiting animals in a zoo can be an important learning event, but nothing beats a natural encounter.

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