in the dips between the dunes.” By our feet, we spotted a
broken-open gull egg.The tan shell was speckled with brown,
grey and black spots.
Similar colours characterized the coats of the grey seals that
were hauled out like boulders along North Beach, where we
viewed them from Zodiacs. When we later walked across
South Beach, we saw seals snuggled together by the surf,
sandblasted by the ever-present wind.
grey seal colony
Sable Island has tens of thousands of grey seals. The number
varies by year and season. During our visit, the seals were
skittish. Jonathan Sheppard instructed us to approach quietly
and keep our distance. “We don’t want to alarm them. If
frightened, they’ll jump into the ocean.”
We watched the seals basking on sand dotted with wave-tossed
surf clams. A tail popped up and then a head. The seal looked
around, scratched its body with a flipper and then plopped
back down again to snooze. Their groans, grunts, snorts and
sighs were often drowned out by the crashing surf.
On Sable Island, Adventure Canada cruise passengers met
Don Bowen, a grey seal researcher at the Bedford Institute of
Oceanography in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. We were intrigued
by the Crittercams and instruments that he used to track seals.
He showed us a map of their foraging routes and a satellite
GPS tag that he affixes to the seals.
We were surprised to find seal and horse carcasses in the sand.
“If you go back years later to an area where you saw a carcass,
you’ll see lush growth. It becomes part of the Sable Island
cycle of life,” explained Jonathan. “Gulls scavenge carcasses
for food. The rest decay into life-giving nutrients.”
Sable Island’s freshwater ponds also have a life cycle, as we
discovered on another walk. Located on the western third of
the island, the fresh water in these ponds floats over denser
salt water. We watched a duckling paddle between yellow
water lilies in one pond. Numerous hoofprints indicated that
horses come here to drink.
Seawater surges from storms inundate some ponds. Sand
infill makes others shallower. Some infilled ponds become
cranberry bogs. “Years ago, cranberries were a significant
Sable Island export,” said Jonathan Sheppard. “Families of
lightkeepers and life-saving station crews harvested the
cranberries and filled empty provision ships with up to 400
barrels of the wild berries annually, to sell in Nova Scotia for
Passengers on a Zodiac view grey seals on North Beach
Grey seals on South Beach
Broken-open gull egg