Harbour seals can be great camouflage artists. I wonder how many times people have sailed, paddled or motored past a reef when the tide is low, not noticing the blubbery herd that’s there to enjoy a few hours of sunshine and relaxation?
The majority of seal haul-out sites around our region are small, seaweed-encrusted reefs like the one above, off Gabriola Island. Small intertidal reefs like this – inaccessible to people, dogs and transient killer whales – provide temporary refuge for harbour seals, who are graceful swimmers and skilled hunters, but slow, clumsy and vulnerable on land.
On a rocky reef, spotted fur coats are the perfect disguise for relaxing and catching 40 winks in peace, before the rising tide forces the herd back to sea.
Of course, once you know when and where to look, it’s easy enough to spot hauled-out seals. But don’t get too close – use your binoculars (or in my case, a telephoto lens). Regulations require people to keep a respectful distance away from all marine mammals, including harbour seals and other pinnipeds (in Canada, the minimum distance is 100 metres). Which is a good thing – after all, these laid-back camouflage artists need their beauty sleep.