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Local Researchers On A Mission To Document All The Seals Living In The Waters Off New York City

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Some creatures living in the waters around New York City seem to be making a comeback.

Dozens of seals have been spotted along the shores near the Bronx and Staten Island.

A team of researchers are trying to figure out just how many there are and they're inviting tourists to join them, CBS2's Natalie Duddridge reported Wednesday.

Researchers are setting out on an expedition to track a growing number of marine mammals most New Yorkers wouldn't expect to find swimming in the Hudson River.

Researchers are trying to count every seal living in the waters off New York City. (Photo: CBS2)

PHOTO GALLERY: Meet The Seals Living Off New York City

"I've been doing this particular work for over eight years now and it never gets old," said Kristy Biolsi, co-founder of C-SPEC (Center for the Study of Pinniped Ecology and Cognition), a group that studies seals.

Biolsi and her team from St. Francis College are working to officially count the entire seal population living in the waters surrounding the Big Apple.

CBS2's Duddridge got to tag along and explore Swinburne Island, a little-known piece of land south of the Verrazzano Bridge near Staten Island, where they're known to hang out. And sure enough, some were found.

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You had to look very closely to see the seals because they blend right into the rocks and several were seen sunbathing along the shore. Duddridge saw another bobbing its heads out of the ocean.

"So far, we've seen a lot of harbor seals in the water and on the rocks and actually two gray seals, which is exciting," Biolsi said.

During this one visit, Biolsi and her team photographed and counted 61 seals that can weigh anywhere between 200 and 800 pounds.

"The spots on their head are like a fingerprint, so you can ID them, but it's a very tricky process," Biolsi said.

But thanks to a partnership with tour boat operators New York Media Boat, the team is able to track them down to study every week.

"It's amazing to see these animals that close to the city, just a couple miles out. It's spectacular," said Media Boat operator Bjoern Kils.

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The experience isn't just exclusive to marine biologists. Tourists can buy tickets for a two-hour excursion and learn all about how seals lived in these waters more than a century ago, only to temporarily disappear as the city grew.

But in the last several years, data shows the population is once again increasing.

Researchers say the seals are a sign that New York's waterways and ecosystem are thriving.

For tourists or photographers looking for a unique experience, seal sightseeing tickets are $100.

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