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Seals are Wildlife


Harbor Seal.  Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries

Harbor and gray seals are common to Northeast.  Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries, Northeast Fisheries Science Center

During the months of May and June, as people start to head to the beach, NOAA Fisheries wants to remind you that this is also the time of year when seals frequent the shoreline.  For the protection of people, pets and seals, keeping a safe distance is wise.

“Since harbor seals tend to use rocky islands, ledges or sandy beaches to give birth or just rest, chances of encountering a seal is greater this time of year, so it is really important that you don’t approach, handle or feed them,” said Mendy Garron, marine mammal stranding coordinator for the Northeast Region of NOAA Fisheries Service. “Even though they look cute, it's a good idea to give these animals some space, respecting nature and the law."  

A disturbed seal can bite and even transmit diseases like distemper virus or rabies to humans and pets.  In other instances, a disturbed seal may abandon its pup to flee an approaching human or dog.  If this happens and the pup is nursing, it will not survive.  However, a female seal is more likely to return to reclaim her pup if the disturbance near the pup goes away.  Observing the animal from a distance is the best way to avoid disturbing it or being injured.

Under federal law it is illegal and punishable by law to pick up, handle or interact with free-swimming, dead or beached marine protected species. This includes seals, whales, dolphins, porpoise, sea turtles and manatees.  Penalties for harassing these animals can be up to $50,000 and a year in jail.  To report incidents of people or pets tormenting, disturbing or attempting to remove a seal from the beach, contact the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline (1-800-853-1964).

What to do when encountering a seal on a beach: