Sexy Winter Hamptonites
By Richard Gambino
There’s a group of beach beauties who like to show off their taut, wet bodies, and ogle us with unblinking, big, dark, bedroom eyes. They like to hang out in theHamptons. Once you’ve feasted your sight on them, you’ll never go back to gazing at the likes of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. No, I’m not talking about the bikini-clad summer Hamptonites who jam our beaches. I’m talking about the seals who like to winter here, from December to April. I’ve seen and photographed Harbor Seals, Grey Seals and Harp Seals at Montauk’s northwest coast. (Although they are pure white when babies, the adult Harp Seals who come here in winter are grayish-white with dark splotches.) I’m told that some people have seen two other species also — Ringed Seals and Hooded Seals, which I understand are rarely found this far south.
These sunbathers are even less inhibited than their human summer counterparts, and the greatest variety and greatest numbers of them can easily be seen in their birthday suits, at no cost, except for a little walking. The longer, and usually colder way, is to walk west along the beach on Block Island Sound from Montauk Lighthouse. The shorter way, away from the onshore northern winds of winter — and much easier for kids as well — is to walk through woods from a spot on Route 27 marking a trail, about100 yardswest of Camp Hero Road, for about six-tenths of a mile to a low bluff above a beach. Take field glasses for close-up views, and a camera with a long lens and tripod for photos. But if you find any seals on the beach, as distinct from on the rocks off shore or in the water near the rocks, do not approach them. Remember, as attractive as they are, they are wild. Female Grey Seals can weigh up to300 pounds, and male Hooded Seals800 pounds! All of them, male and female, have very strong jaws and long, pointed canine teeth. As Aretha Franklin used to sing, the word to keep in mind is, “R-e-s-p-e-c-t!”
All of the species that visit us each winter are known as “true seals” or “earless seals.” Despite the latter name, they can hear very well, both on land and underwater. Contributing to their streamlined form, their ears are internal, unlike the ears of sea lions and fur seals. Also, the nipples of the female seals can be retracted into the body, as can the testicles and penises of the males, the latter into a deep, internal sheath. The result of this sleekness is that they can swim very fast and turn on a sinking dime, and so catch the many fish they need to eat. And because of their extraordinary noses, which look ordinary to us (except for the Hooded Seal, which can inflate its nose), but are in fact incredibly complex, their sense of smell is superb, not only on land but also underwater. In fact, their hearing and smell are so advanced that a seal could probably find food and survive even if blindfolded. And if their eyes seem all the more soulful because they produce a prodigious amount of tears for protection against salt water, so what? I’ll bet you that Angelina and Brad can’t match any of the above.
As amazingly fast and graceful as they are in water, the seals are clumsy on land, and move by awkwardly swinging their front flippers from side to side, as some of our summer beach people do with their cocked elbows when fast-walking, and wiggling their abdominal muscles, as do some of our summer Hamptonites when … well, when doing just about anything. This process is called — and I’m not making this up — “galumphing,” and is not unlike how some of us moved when we were in high school. And like some of us when we were sixteen or seventeen, the seals can cover ground fast by galumphing. Seals can’t bark, as sea lions famously do, but communicate by slapping the water’s surface and grunting, like some of our summer folks.
These creatures are not only more graceful underwater than ballet dancers and jet fighter planes, but they can dive very deep — more than130 feet– stay underwater for very long times — as much as one hour — and rise to the surface as fast a NASA rocket, without getting the bends. (Human scuba divers need to come to surface with measured slowness after having been at depths more than33 feet. Failure to do so causes “bends,” a forming of gas bubbles in the circulatory system that can cause pain, paralysis and even death.)