Cruise out for the chance to see some of the seals and waterfowl that spend their winters in Long Island Sound during the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk's new season of Winter Creature Cruises. These invigorating outings aboard the research vessel Oceanic occur many weekends from mid-December through early April. That's when the seals come down from northern waters, which serve as their summer breeding and pupping areas.
The aquarium's cruises seek out the seals to observe them as they come up at low tide to rest on rocks, shoals and shorelines on and near the Norwalk Islands. Dates and departure times vary by the tide schedule. Initial cruises are: Sat., Dec. 12 at 9:30 a.m.; Sat., Jan. 15 at 1 p.m.; and Sun., Jan. 16 at 1 p.m.
For the full 2009-10 Winter Creature Cruise schedule, go online to: www.maritimeaquarium.org/cruises_winter.html
Previous years' cruises have identified two species of seals in the Sound: harbor seals and gray seals. All seals are federally protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which limits how closely anyone may approach them.
Educators onboard will talk about the seals' natural histories and use artifacts to discuss seal anatomy. They'll discuss what happens with the Sound's general marine population during the winter: who stays, who migrates in (besides seals) and who migrates out.
And they'll point out wintering waterfowl on the Sound, including buffleheads, mergansers, Old Squaw and other feathered seasonal visitors.
Participants can help with their cruise's plankton and water-chemistry samplings. Data collected during the cruises is added to the Long Island Sound Biodiversity Project, which is an ongoing census of the Sound's animal species. This online database is sponsored by the aquarium and includes students in collecting data on the physical and biological contents of Long Island Sound.
Bring binoculars, cameras and -- because there is limited cabin space -- plenty of warm clothes. The 2 1/2-hour cruises are good for ages 8 and older.
Tickets for the cruise are $20.50 (or $18.50 for aquarium members). Weekday charters for school groups are available.
Advance ticket purchases are strongly recommended; walk-up tickets will be sold, space permitting. Get advance tickets by calling (203) 852-0700, ext. 2206, during weekday business hours or by going online anytime to www.maritimeaquarium.org.
For information about other offerings, call (203) 852-0700 or visit www.maritimeaquarium.org.