Don't Touch that Seal!

While our turtles are still doing great in the Sea Turtle Recovery Room [The space that housed the Sea Turtle Recovery Room is now The Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank. Rescued sea turtles are now cared for at the new, much larger Animal Care Clinic in Quincy.], I thought I would post about seal pup season, which is now upon us. Harbor seal pups are now being born along our coastline. Here are some tips and information about viewing seals.

First thing to know is that it is completely normal for a seals to rest on shore. These animals are semi-aquatic so they spend part of their normal life "hauled out" on dry land.

A healthy little harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) pup. They are cute but it is illegal to approach, touch or harass any marine mammal in any way.

All marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act which makes it illegal to touch harass or alter their normal behavioral pattern in any way. Doing so can result in heavy fines and arrest.

Harbor seal pups will spend approximately four weeks with their moms before being weaned at which point the seal mom leaves the pup to fend for itself. During the nursing period the mother seal will leave the baby alone while foraging. A mother seal will not return to the pup until it does not see any people around it and even though you may not see her she definitely can see you.

The best thing for these seal pups is to stay with their mom until they are weaned. If they are moved from the area or disturbed by human interaction mom may abandon the pup.

A few things to remember when you come across a seal on the beach:
  • Never Cover a seal—this may overheat the seal which can cause death because it already has fur and a blubber layer that will keep it warm while on land. "Shivering" is typically a sign of stress which means you are too close to the seal.
  • Never pour water onto the seal—This may inhibit the animals' ability to warm itself.
  • Never try and feed the animal—Foods made by or handled by humans could be problematic for seals. Seals eat live food and will generally ignor items placed near them on the beach. Seals do not necessarily eat daily, they will go back in the water when the want to eat.

  • Do not handle the sealThis is breaking the law!
  • Do call the New England Aquarium hotline— 617-973-5247
What will happen to the seal when you call our hotline? We will ask a variety of questions to assess the health of the seal and the location. For example we will ask questions regarding the animal's body condition, length, weight, activity level, and alertness. We are boiling this down of course, but this is the gist of it. It is also import for us to obtain an exact location so we can send a volunteer or respond ourselves if necessary.

If the animal appears to be resting with no signs of distress we will put the animal on "watch" which means we leave the seal on the beach and do additional health assessments once or twice a day until the animal returns to the ocean on its own or we determine that there is indeed a health problem.

It is very important to call us right away if you happen to see an entagled seal or a seal with an injury. When viewing wildlife it is always best to admire from a distance so that you can enjoy them behaving in a normal manner.

You can find out more about what the Marine Animal Rescue Team guidelines on these pages.

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