We did not expect to see seals on Cape Cod. There was not much wildlife in New England, aside from squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks, when we left in the 1970’s. Now it is overrun with deer, wild turkeys, coyotes, and gray seals.
Every day on the Cape beaches, we saw seal heads bobbing in the surf, sometimes only one or two, sometimes as many as a dozen. But, on our final day on the Cape, we ran into a full-blown seal convention. We headed for Coast Guard Beach fairly early, near low tide. On a sandbar on the beach’s southern end, a no-dog zone, there was a writhing mass of blubber–hundreds of seals.
And they were loud. Making a huge variety of sounds–barks, groans, howls, and unearthly moans, like the sound made when you blow across the top of a bottle, only much louder.
A group of large seals patrolled the edge of the sandbar closest to the surf, waddling and rocking their way along the sand.
But the bulk of the seals were tightly packed on the shore edge of the sandbar, constantly moving, rolling, yowling, flapping fins, and jousting with each other. Occasionally something would startle the skittish, starting an exodus into the water. Most, though, just continued to carry on with their noisy, blubbery social hour. What an amazing spectacle.
We eventually left the seals and, because it was our final day on the Cape, decided to make a quick trip to the Cape Cod Potato Chip factory. I am picky about my potato chips. When I was growing up, I would eat nothing but State Line Potato Chips. When Cape Cod Chips were born, they became my favorites. Unfortunately, except for a brief time, they have not been available in Alaska. So, we ordered them by the box, froze them—they freeze well—and would savor them like a treat. George usually ordered them by telephone for me and the same woman—with a heavy Boston accent—usually took the order. After a while, when George called, he would say, “It’s George from Alaska,” and the Cape Cod Chip woman would respond with, “The usual?”
We hoped that she would still be working there. Sure enough, when George walked into the factory gift shop, he said to the woman behind the counter, “I’m from Anchorage, Alaska . . .” and she immediately responded, “Are you George?” We felt like we were meeting a long lost friend. Not surprisingly, their only regular orders from Alaska came from us and occasionally one other guy. One person in Hawaii also orders regularly. We should have formed a support group.
The factory was interesting, too, but no photos allowed. The manufacturing process was just as you would expect–potatoes peeled, cut, fried, salted, and packaged. But the place was surprisingly small. I had expected a massive industrial enterprise. It felt more like a family business.
After our chip interlude, I returned to the beach to try to see the seals one last time. I talked with some of the locals fishing from the beach, who were very vocal in their desire to see a culling of the seal population. It has exploded since the Marine Mammal Protection Act passed in 1972, from near extinction to a population estimated at over 15,000. These fishermen were convinced that the seals are affecting the fisheries and preventing a recovery of the fishing stock. I don’t know enough about the region’s ecosystem to know if their concerns are warranted. But there’s no doubt that these massive animals consume a lot of fish.
The tide was fairly high when I returned in the afternoon, but the seals were still swimming together in groups near the sand bar. Their faces, with the big dark eyes, reminded me of Zoe.