Seal pupping season is underway in New England. If you are headed to the beach this Memorial Day weekend, you might see a seal pup resting on the beach. There is no selfie stick long enough! As tempting as it might be to get that perfect shot of yourself or your child with an adorable seal pup, please do the right thing and leave the seal pup alone. Getting too close to a wild animal puts you—and the animal—at risk. Seals have powerful jaws, and can leave a lasting impression. We have received reports of a number of injuries to humans as a result of getting too close to an animal during a quick photo op. When you get too close to a wild animal, you risk stressing or threatening it, and stressed animals are much more likely to act unpredictably.
It is normal for a mother seal to leave her young pup alone on the beach for up to 24 hours while she feeds. You may not see the mother offshore, but if she sees you near her pup, she may not think it’s safe to come back. It might only take a few seconds for you to snap the photo, but the mother may abandon her pup if she feels threatened. For the seal pup, the consequences can be devastating.
Give Them Space
If you see a seal pup, keep your distance. As a rule of thumb, stay at least 50 yards (150 feet) from seals. A curious seal pup might approach on its own, but the mother is likely to be nearby, and may see your interaction as a threat.
“The best thing you can do if you want to help is keep away from the animal and keep your pets away from it, so the mother has a chance to return,” says Mendy Garron, marine mammal stranding program coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region.
Approaching a wild animal can be considered harassment, which is an illegal activity. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, harassment is defined as “any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance” which has the potential to injure or disturb a marine animal. This can be dangerous for the animal, but can be dangerous for you, too.
How to Help
If you think an animal may be in trouble, there are things you can do:
- To report a stranding, please call your local Marine Mammal Stranding Network Member or the NOAA Fisheries Northeast Regional 24-hour hotline 866-755-NOAA (6622).
- If you see someone harassing a marine mammal, please contact our Office of Law Enforcement at 800-853-1964.
- Always maintain a safe distance, at least 150 feet, from the animal to avoid injury to yourself or injury to the animal.
More information on the Greater Atlantic Region’s Stranding Program (covering the coastlines of Maine to Virginia).
Watch our new Public Service Announcement on sharing our shores with seals and sea lions.
Photo Credit: Marine Mammals of Maine.