Local environmentalists spotted a newborn Harbor Seal residing in Jamaica Bay this summer, believed to be the first pup of its kind to be born in the bay in nearly 100 years.
Baby Ruffles, named for its home around the Ruffle Bar between Broad Channel, Rockaway, and Brooklyn, is more than just a new adorable mascot for the bay, but may be a tremendously positive sign that the water is getting cleaner and that wildlife populations will continue to grow around the area.
“It’s a testimonial to how far we’ve come with the bay,” said Dan Mundy Jr., Broad Channel resident and President of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers – and one of those who discovered Baby Ruffles sometime in August.
“We are thinking that this is something we haven’t seen in 100 years,” he told the Wave, “It is a tremendously big deal.”
The Ecowatchers, a group of locals who traverse the bay’s ecosystems by boat and kayak, already knew of the pup’s mother, also named Ruffles, who is a regular bay resident, but noticed that it had an enlarged belly and was acting strange earlier this summer.
“It seemed more territorial,” Mundy said, “We were saying ‘Wow, that seal looks pregnant’.”
Soon, members finally caught eye of Ruffles’ baby on the marshes and captured pictures, posting them on Facebook on Sept. 25 to an outpouring of local attention, not just for Baby Ruffles’ adorably large brown eyes and kitten-like whiskers, but also the environmental and historical significance of its birth in local waters.
Rampant pollution during the early 20th century the populations for many species of local marine life – including seals – to crash, with seals becoming virtually unheard of in the bay in recent decades. Due to local environmental action, legislation, and significant city investment, however, Jamaica Bay is beginning to make a comeback – the kind of comeback that allows Harbor Seals like Baby Ruffles to return to the bay,
“The water is getting cleaner, it’s abundant with life,” said Alex Zablocki, Executive Director of the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy. “Seals are a welcome sight, but so are the return of Ospreys, Terrapins, Horseshoe Crabs, etc,” he said.
Zablocki and other environmentalists attest the influx of larger creatures like seals to a dramatic increase in their food source; fish. Namely, Menhaden, or Bunker, which have returned to the bay in recent years.
“The bay is abundant with fish,” Zablocki said.
The return of these fish has been made possible by the bay’s general increase in water quality in the last 25 years.
“You can give credit to the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers and the people of Rockaway being champions of the bay and fighting city, state, and federal government,” Alex Zablocki said, “The water is cleaner than it has been in a generation, and that’s thanks to people’s hard work.”
Environmental Scientists, like Associate Professor at Brooklyn College and director of the Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay Brett Branco, says the data backs the observations made by locals.
“People who live around the bay and really pay attention to the bay observe that the water quality is the best they can remember,” Branco told the Wave, “To tell the truth their observations are backed up by data, and the data says that the water is clearer,” he said, specifically noting a decrease in waste water runoff from plants and lower nitrogen levels.
“This is because the city has invested significantly into trying to improve water quality in the bay,” he said.
Branco, who has focused his career on mostly urban waterways like Jamaica Bay and New York Harbor explained that the issue of waste is somewhat unavoidable.
“It’s a historical fact that a lot of the world’s major cities have been built on the shores of really important marine ecosystems like Jamaica Bay and New York Harbor. But the place we put all that waste is into the water that surrounds these cities, and that impacts the water,” he said, “It’s one of the grand challenges of places like New York City, what do we do with the waste? We haven’t figured it out, and I don’t know if we’ll ever figure it out, it has to go somewhere.”
However, Branco says that work done by individuals and considerable government investment has helped lessen the amount of waste going into our city’s water, which allows wildlife to flourish. “This is a feel good moment to see things like baby seals in the bay,” he said. “It’s very encouraging, but it doesn’t mean the work is done.”
As for Baby Ruffles, locals are hoping it (The sex of the pup is currently unknown) sticks around for next year, and Mundy hopes that if it does, they may be able to get the community involved in giving it its own name.
Photo courtesy of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers
This is such wonderful news! In the 1970’s we had a sailboat that we kept in Dead Horse Bay, Brooklyn, in Jamaica Bay. We sailed all around those waters in Jamaica Bay. Whenever I jumped in the water to swim, I remember having oil (yuk!) on my body when I jumped back into the boat. So happy that the water quality is improving. As a child (he was born in1917), my Dad swam in the Bronx River. He said that was why he learned the side stroke so that he could push all the gross debris from his face! During WWII, because of this rough and ready self-training in the waters of NYC, he became a deep sea diver in the Navy.