2013 Winter

For a unique winter adventure, grab some binoculars and sail out to see the seals and seabirds happily hanging out around Long Island Sound in Connecticut’s Fairfield County.

Seals and their feathered friends are the headliners on Winter Creature Cruises sponsored by the Norwalk Maritime Aquarium, sailing out from Norwalk harbor on the Aquarium’s 40-foot research ship RV Oceanic on weekends from December through March.

On these rare winter excursions, harbor seals and gray seals often can be spotted at low tide, nestled together on the exposed rocks and shoals near the Norwalk Islands. They are taking a break from their more frigid homes up north. Because the open water of the Sound does not freeze, it offers access to food even in the coldest winter months. More seals are attracted each year, along with handsome hardy seabirds such as buffleheads, mergansers, Brant geese and long-tailed ducks. Some have traveled from as far away as the Arctic Circle.

Marine science educators are on board to talk about the seals, using artifacts to discuss seal anatomy. They paint a colorful picture of all the sea life in the Sound in winter--which animals swim south, which arrive from the north, and how creatures adapt to the cold. Participants can help with their cruise’s plankton and water-chemistry samplings. Data collected during cruises is added to the Long Island Sound Biodiversity Project, an ongoing census and online database of the Sound’s animal species.

While there's no guarantee there will be seal sightings, the 2 ½-hour cruises up the odds by departing an hour before low tide, the prime time to see the seals. Cruises this year will take place January 6, 11 a.m., January 19 10:30 a.m., January 20, 11:30 a.m.; February 2, 9 a.m., February 3, 10 a.m., February 16, 9 a.m., February 17, 10 a.m.; March 3, 9 a.m., March 16, 9 a.m., March 17, 9:30 a.m.

Passengers must be over 42" tall and are advised to dress warmly. The cost is $20.50 per person. To reserve tickets phone 203-852-0700, ext. 2206, during regular business hours; or email reservations@maritimeaquarium.org.

For more information about the cruises and other winter activities in Fairfield County, including a free copy of Unwind, a full-color, 152-page booklet detailing what to do and see, and where to stay, shop and dine, contact the Western Connecticut Visitors Bureau, PO Box 968, Litchfield, CT 06759, (860) 567-4506, or www.visitwesternct.com.