Life on Long Island presents endless possibilities, with a diverse population of plants, animals, and sea life. When enjoying the ocean or the Sound, you may even have the pleasure of encountering marine life—whether it’s a large marine mammal, such as a seal or porpoise, or a smaller crustacean with intimidating claws.
The ocean is magical and can provide you with exhilarating experiences, allowing you to feel in tune with the forces of nature. It’s a good idea to educate yourself on the creatures you share the water with, in case of an encounter.
The number one marine “crustacean” (it appears to be in the crustacean family but is, in fact, an arachnid) people see is the horseshoe crab. This strange and harmless helmet-shaped creature with a pointy tail creeps across the shallow sand under the water. This creature is often abused by those who pick them up by their long tails and inspect them; thoroughly intrigued by the fiddling “crab.” This horseshoe crab is not just another pest crawling across your toes while you enjoy the Sound. It’s a prehistoric crab that has managed to survive for the past 300 million years. Now the horseshoe crabs found along the east coast of North America, the only place in the Western Hemisphere they inhabit, are dying at a rapid pace due to our “human invasion.” We must protect these crabs during the summer when many people are swimming and curious to catch a crab crawling by. It’s important to let them survive and maintain their place and purpose in the ecosystem of the Long Island Sound.
Turtles are also a very popular form of marine life that thrives in the waters off of Long Island. Five species are common: Leatherback, Loggerhead, Kemps Ridley, Green Turtle and Hawksbill. After hatching on the beach, they are preyed upon by land and sea. Foxes, cats, ghost crabs and raccoons are some of their most dangerous enemies. Other predators like sea birds, fish and gulls wait patiently in the water. While learning to survive in the depths of dark water many young turtles perish by the forces of the ocean. In the winter they can become cold-stunned and wash up on shore. Those interested can volunteer to survey the shores during the winter to save cold-stunned sea turtles at The Riverhead Foundation, which is associated with the Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center.
Dolphins and whales are considered to be the most common types of cetaceans to grace the coasts of Long Island. Last August, a pod of over 100 dolphins was spotted playfully swimming and flirting with boaters over the course of two days. It was a majestic and magical sight. Soon they graced the coast of Huntington Harbor, to the pleasure of many Long Islanders. At times, dolphins may also be spotted off the coast of Jones Beach, Fire Island and in the Hamptons. Seals are also frequently seen along the coasts of our island, especially in the winter off of the Rockaways and Long Beach. A porpoise by the name of Noodle was recently kept at the Long Island Aquarium for rehabilitation and released after six months off of the Shinnecock Inlet.
Releases are open to the public. Visit the website at longislandaquarium.com to find info about when and where to attend.
When you encounter these creatures always remember to respect them. It’s extremely important to help them survive and thrive in our environment, and not to interrupt their natural course of life. If any of these marine creatures seem in danger, or dangerous, assess the situation and act accordingly. Keep children at an appropriate distance from endangered or dangerous marine life, and inspect and observe the beauty they have to offer. If ever in a situation where a marine mammal seems hurt, lost or stranded, you can call the Riverhead Foundation’s 24-Hour Stranding Hotline at 631-369-9829.