Monday, December 31, 2012

Rare Creatures of Raritan Bay


Raritan Bay is the home to a variety of animals.  If you are lucky, you may run into them during your sailing in the bay.  I have had encounters with each of the below and are always looking for a new one.  Seeing something different while on the bay is what it is all about.  The bay is not anything like your neighborhood and it changes all the time with the seasons and even the ever lurking thought of what can come from the ocean into the bay.  

The first interesting thing that comes to mind is the seal population in the bay.  Seals are really uncommon to most of us as they tend to be in our waters when we are not.  I was able to see my first seal four years ago on a my first sailing trip of the season.  We sailed out of Keyport and sailed across to Staten Island and there it was up on some rocks around a light tower just off the shore.  The seal was a grey color with black spots and did not seem alarmed at us sailing by.  The other was the following year while on a winter ride and walk along the shore of Sandy Hook. Just a little north of Horseshoe Cove was a small seal lying on the beach getting some nice warm sun.  Seals stopping in the bay are usually just stopping here on their way south or north, depending on the time of year.  Though more popular in mid-winter, seals can be seen from January through April.  There will be some sightings each side of those months and even more on the rare few that never leave the bay making it their year round home. Still the seals remain elusive to those only visiting the bay during the warmer months.  

Another odd occurrence is a Sunfish.  A one time encounter that stuck with me.  Single handing a nice sunny day I was sailing along just northeast of Can 1 and saw what I thought was a shark fin sticking out of the water.  I came hard to port to try to get a closer look and was able to get within fifteen feet of this strange looking fish that seemed to be looking at me and waiving it's fin saying hello.  It was almost erie and I think the eye contact got me the most.  Well, the waiving kind of sticks too.  It was strange... I saw another one of these while fishing off shore last year.  

While we are on the subject of fins sticking out of the water we will talk about sharks in Raritan Bay.  Do you think there are?  I don't mean these little sand shark type, I mean something substantial that could do damage if encountered.  And what size would you consider big enough to cause damage?  There are old stories about large sharks caught in Raritan Bay, even one from 1916 were we had a killer shark visiting Matawan Creek and eating swimmers.  In a body of water of this size the water clarity improving every year and bringing more fish into the bay, sharks will be a natural byproduct.  However, they are here already.  One day this past season of 2012 we were sailing back from Great Beds and saw to shark fins swimming together and than another just outside Keyport Harbor.  Three sharks in one day!  Size was about the four to five foot range and trying to identify was impossible. Just the fact they were four to five feet is a substantial predator in my book.  Being this was the first time I ran into this, I came home and checked the internet and immediately found a video from a kayaker with exactly what we had seen this day.  It just confirmed that others have seen sharks in the bay.  Not be to long winded, I'll move on leaving the thought of these large fish while fishing, swimming, or just wading.  Something I do....now.

Another, what I consider beautiful, is the Osprey, and I've seen more of these birds in the past couple years than before.  

http://youtu.be/Y3owk09igM8 

I sat and watched this bird dive for fish which most likely weighed more than the bird.  There was one case where the Osprey could not pick up the fish because of its size.  It tried two or three times to get the fish into the air, but it just couldn't happen. After this fight, it took off out of the mooring field and did not see it again for a couple weeks.  My understanding is they come to our area in early spring to build their new nest and spend the entire summer here and leaving in the fall.   They share the same seasons on the bay we do, watch for them.

I have many disbelievers, but I have had big, I mean big, sea turtles.  I would consider them loggerheads, but I know little about turtles.  These turtles are in the three foot length.  They seem to come around on a light breeze and only when the stereo has got some bass playing from down in the cabin.  This isn't something that has happened once or twice, it has happened to us on numerous occasions. I have seen smaller ones, but they will not come close to the boat like these big ones.  I'd like to hear if others have been lucky enough to have had this happen.  

I've only touched upon the visitors to the bay.  There are many more that can be added to the ones above and maybe we can touch on them in the future. I'll stop here for now as I tend to get long winded.


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