Seals and chips

Seals Cape Cod-30We 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.

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Approaching the sandbar

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.

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Check out the open mouth on the right.  Impressive vocal capacity.

Check out the open mouth on the right. Impressive vocal capacity.

A group of large seals patrolled the edge of the sandbar closest to the surf, waddling and rocking their way along the sand.

Seals Cape Cod-8Seals Cape Cod-17Others swam in the water between the sand bar and the beach, fixing their enormous eyes on the people on the shore. Seals Cape Cod-6

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.
Seals Cape Cod-23Seals Cape Cod-28Seals Cape Cod-22Seals Cape Cod-25

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?”

IMG_2955IMG_2956We 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.

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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.

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7 thoughts on “Seals and chips

  1. Wow! I love the seal photos! I had no idea they were in that part of the world. And, after reading this post I want to go buy some Cape Cod potato chips. Luckily, we can get them at our local grocery stores here in Georgia.

    • Thanks! George gets the credit for the seal photos. The seals were a surprise to us, too, and were mesmerizing to watch. Seeing and hearing the seals on the sandbar was a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience. Just astonishing.

      I became addicted to Cape Cod chips when we lived in Georgia. They finally became available in Alaska about two months before we left on this trip.

  2. After reading this I went to the Cape Code Potato Chip site, hoping I could find them in nearby in Indiana. It looks like I will be a new customer by calling in my order….lol

  3. So glad to hear that the seal population has rebounded, that sort of story always gives a body hope. (I heard the other day that blue whales have recovered to 97% of their historical levels, maybe the future won’t be entirely humans, rats, and roaches?)

    The population out here is fairly stable, as far as I know, though periodically one will wash up dead, shot by a fisherman, but most of the fishermen around here have been taught about the “doctors of the sea” principle whereby seals eat the sick fish, and take far fewer than a rampaging disease would. (If they’re concerned about collapsing fishing stocks, there are other places to look…sorry, I’m going off again, aren’t I?)

    And the “reunion” with your phone order lady is a fantastic story!

    • Thanks for your comment! I moved to Alaska in the 1970s in large part for its wildness. So, for me, it was particularly heartening to see a healthy wild seal population on the East Coast, which is so heavily congested with people. Now the people need to figure out how to coexist with the seals. And you’re right, there are many causes for the depletion of the fishing grounds. It’s an emotional issue on the Cape and Nantucket, though, which I found out. I got an earful from the fishermen. And it’s not just the fishermen who are grumbling. Some coastal residents apparently don’t like the seals “fouling” the beaches and attracting the sharks. Personally, I’d rather see a beach covered with seals than covered with people–but that’s why I left the East Coast.

      As for the future, it may be just rats and roaches for a while–I suspect we may do ourselves in!

      I’m glad you liked the phone order lady story. It felt like a reunion–the other people in the store couldn’t quite figure out what was going on.

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