Save the SEAL - a blog series

It is natural for seals to be in the New England area, and every year we get calls with the same concerns or reactions.  We are starting this blog series entitled 'Save' the SEAL to address the most common statements we hear from the caller.  Before we begin, I want to provide some general information to keep in mind when you see a seal on the beach.  Using a helpful reminder created by a Rescue team volunteer, Mike O'Neill, let's begin!

A gray seal rests on a beach.  They may look awkward on land, but it is a completely natural behavior.

Survey the area by making observations and taking photos from a distance.  Seals are semi-aquatic and are just as comfortable on land as they are in the water.  There is no need to push them back in or approach in any way.  They are wild animals that should be appreciated from a distance. Feel free to take photos, but stay 150 feet away if possible.  Do not jump to conclusions since it is natural for a seal to be on land in this area.

This harbor seal pup was a recent case on the south shore.  People assumed it needed help, and even suggested it was attacked by a shark, when it was actually in decent condition and showing the typical observations we see for a pup, such as being underweight, minor abrasions, and lacking fear of people.  Pups especially may haul out on unusual beaches or act strangely in the water as they learn the best spots to rest and experiment with different behaviors.

Educate on-lookers.  Explain that it is normal for seals to be on land to the people around you!  Now that you know the information, the best way to spread the word is to educate.  No matter how many signs or flyers we hand out, word of mouth is always the best.  You can also help keep a safe distance from the seal which is the best supportive care you can provide for the animal.

Establishing a perimeter a safe distance from the seal is best.  Share the information with fellow beach goers because they probably just don't know the normal behavior of a seal.  Now that you do, you can help spread the word and keep the wildlife wild!

Alert the experts.  If you see a live or dead seal on the beach, call the NEAQ hotline at 617-973-5247.  We are always available by phone, and depending on the situation, we will either respond to an animal ourselves or send one of our highly trained and experienced field volunteers to the scene.  Field volunteers act as our first responders by assessing from a distance, gathering documentation through photos to report back to staff, and educating the public.  They are trained in what to look for such as proper behavior, significance of wounds, and general safety for the animal.

We always try to get a field volunteer to assess an animal as quickly as possible.  If the animal appears healthy or in decent condition, we will leave it on the beach to rest naturally and monitor periodically.  Usually, it is best not to intervene unless absolutely necessary.

Leave it alone.  Seals are not comforted by human presence, and even though they may not retreat from you, it does not mean it is not extremely stressed by the encounter.  Displays such as shivering, vocalizing, and waving flippers are all signs of stress.  Seals are also federally protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes it illegal to harass any marine mammal.  Harassment can be defined as anything that will alter the natural behavior, so if a seal is sleeping on the beach, and you approach so that it looks at you, you have altered it's sleeping behavior and technically harassing the animal.  The best guideline is to stay 150 feet away according to these federal regulations.

This harp seal is not waving 'hi', someone must be approaching or making noise.  This behavior is a sign of stress and it is our cue to back away.  Physiological stress can cause a severe decline in health very quickly.

Seals also carry zoonotic diseases, which are pathogens that can be transferred from the seal (including carcasses) to humans or dogs.  Seals can also bite, and the natural bacteria in their mouths can cause severe infections so it is best to keep distance from the seal for you and your pets safety as well.  
We hope this information is useful when you are out on the beach.  Some of the typical comments we get such as "it's a baby and all alone", "it can't get back in the water", or "it was attacked by a shark" and much more will be addressed in blogs to come so remember to follow this series.  In the meantime, remember our hotline # is 617-973-5247 and if you care, leave it there!


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