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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.

World’s largest

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

premium prices.”

Passengers on a Zodiac view grey seals on North Beach

Grey seals on South Beach

Broken-open gull egg