A young harbor seal is being treated at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, NJ after it was found with injuries last Friday. It was first discovered by property owners on the edge of an ocean beach in Sea Bright, NJ. The sickly seal was lethargic and had several cuts or wounds to its body, including a noticeable gash on its chest.
While the sight of an injured marine mammal is never pleasant, the scene was made even worse by the ignorance and misconduct of some people. There were reports by locals of at least one person trying to push the poor seal back into the water with a stick and another report of local police being unaware of whom to call for care and essentially being unhelpful in the situation. I personally witnessed one person trying to approach the seal in a manner that would startle it back into the water before he was told to stay back.
Ignorance and apathy is never a good combination. The injured harbor seal was put under even more stress by a dangerous and uncooperative situation. The seal wasn't happy and it was very sick. Perhaps it could have even died if proper assistance was not given at the right time.
If you believe a seal, dolphin or whale is in distress or injured, what should you do?
In New Jersey always call the Marine Mammal Stranding Center at 609-266-0538. In New York, call the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation at 631-369-9829. These two non-profit organizations have the authority to help stranded or sick marine mammals and sea turtles. Wildlife experts with the help of trained volunteers will determine if an animal is in need of medical attention, needs to be moved from a populated area, or just needs time to rest.
Never poke or touch a seal. Everyone needs to give space to wild animals, stay back at least 100 yards if possible, and keep your dogs on a leash and away from marine mammals. Do not harass, scare, or try to feed the animal. Boats should also not come closer than 100 yards of marine mammals.
No one should be touching or trying to get near any marine mammal. It's against federal law.
All marine mammals (including seals, whales and dolphins) are protected by law under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Federal marine mammal regulations prohibit harassing or touching seals and it is considered harassment. What is harassment? It’s when a person or a group of people disturb, injure, or interfere with a marine mammal’s ability to hunt, feed, communicate, socialize, rest, breed, or care for its young.
All marine mammals are federally protected. These species are managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries division. If you feed, touch, harass, pour water on or pick up a seal you may be investigated by NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement for violating the marine mammal regulations.
If you see a marine mammal being harassed by a person, call the NOAA Enforcement Hotline, 1-800-853-1964. The hotline is available 24 hours a day to report possible violations or provide information to help solve a case.
Of course not every marine mammal we encounter will be sick. A seal may appear on a beach and often this is not an emergency -- harbor seals naturally use the beach to rest and digest their food.
It’s always a good idea, though, to be respectful and keep plenty of space between you and a wild animal. If your presence causes increased vocalizations, shaking or body tremors; or if a resting animal begins to lift its head with eyes on you, then you are too close. Loud noises and quick movements are likely to scare or agitate wild animals.
Always respect wild animals and view wildlife from afar.
Now you know what to do if you see a sick seal on the beach. Leave it alone, let it rest, and call for help.