For over ten years various species of seals have been seasonal visitors to Sandy Hook National Recreation Area. What started with just a few seals resting on a sandy spit of land has expanded to well over 100 seals, mostly harbor seals, relaxing on long stretch of beach after a busy night foraging for fish, clams, crabs, and squid.
Seeing wild seals is an extraordinary experience. It quickly reminds people just how connected we are to the Atlantic Ocean, and how important our tidal waters have become once more for marine mammals.
Yet, we are loving the sight of seals to their distress. We need to show seals some respect.
Harbor seals often migrate hundreds of miles from northern New England and Canada to Sandy Hook Bay to feed and relax after a busy breeding season. They are seeking undisturbed areas along the coast every winter to find food and stay healthy.
Without safe places to rest, reheat, and digest their food (particularly important since harbor seals usually swallow their food whole after being torn into chunks), they could get sick and exhausted. Quite a few seals observed each winter are also pregnant females that need extra time to relax and feed before returning up north to have pups.
An adult Harbor Seal skull. Seals have sharp teeth and will give a nasty bite when people get too close.
Seals will swim away and never return if too many people or boats are nearby, as they did at sites in San Francisco Bay due to chronic incidences of human disturbances. Could this eventually occur in Sandy Hook Bay?
Harbor seals become stressed by people who talk loud or when people walk their dogs too close, or by the sound of a barking dog, and by the close proximity of boats, windsurfers or other human activities. Kayakers can frighten seals away even if the boat is at some distance. A harbor seal will see the shape of a kayak as a large shark, a major marine predator.
Seals are a federally protected species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. It’s against the law to approach, touch, feed or otherwise change a seal’s behavior either by foot or by boat. Even a brief disruption can cause anxiety, since seals will need to spend more time being alert and less time resting.
When viewing seals at Sandy Hook please:
In addition, if you see a seal that appears injured, entangled, sick, or being harassed, call the Marine Mammal Stranding Center at 609-266-0538. This non-profit organization has the authority to help stranded or sick marine mammals and sea turtles. Wildlife experts will determine if an animal needs medical attention or just time to rest.