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News and Resources

Enjoy our winter visitors from a distance - December 5, 2013

If you are looking out into our coastal bays this winter and you see something that resembles a seal, it probably is!

Seal sightings in Delmarva, both in the bays and ocean, are occurring more frequently with each passing year. We have yet to see our first furry, winter visitor here in the coastal bays however there have been seal sightings in New Jersey and other Northeast states that leads us to believe we will be seeing them very soon.

There are four different species of seals that migrate down to the coastal bays for the winter. These four species include Harp, Hooded, Harbor and Grey seals. We have yet to have a long-term colony of seals living down here however we have seen the number of seals visiting our coastal bays increasing over the past few years.

With the increase of our migrating visitors, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP) has partnered with the National Aquarium in Baltimore, specifically its Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) to provide more public outreach regarding seals and their natural behaviors, as well as other marine mammal species.

With the help of citizens, the MCBP, MARP and other partners are aiming to create a source of information on local seal habits to aide scientists in the conservation and protection of these amazing animals.

Seals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This means it is against the law to touch, feed or otherwise harass seals. Harassment occurs when your behavior changes their behavior or creates an unsafe environment for the seal.

Seals, like many other marine mammals, are cute and seem cuddly. Like the Assateague ponies, one cannot help but want to get closer and even touch or feed them. But, such human contact does more harm than good and ultimately can lead to disastrous results or major problems not only for the seals but also for us.

Increased contact with people eventually leads seals to be habituated to human behavior. Habituated seals are more likely to suffer from negative human interactions and are less likely to avoid dangerous situations. For instance, feeding seals encourages them to approach boats looking for handouts. This behavior has resulted in injuries from boat propellers, which can maim and kill seals and leave boaters stranded due to a broken propeller.

Like our Assateague ponies, seals are large wild animals and can be extremely dangerous. They will bite and be aggressive if need be and serious infections can be transmitted to you or your pet.

Seals are semi-aquatic animals, which means they often spend a portion of each day on land. Seals need to ‘haul out’ for a variety of reasons; to rest, pup and molt (shed). Young seals may haul out for up to a week. Disturbances will cause unnecessary stress and will encourage it to get back into water. An exhausted seal that has to get back into the water becomes very vulnerable to predators and illness.

MCBP and MARP are hoping to reach out to you and our community by helping us to protect these animals and inform visitors and locals alike. It is perfectly normal for a seal to take a rest on the beach. The best thing you can do for that seal is stay at least 50 yards away, avoid being noisy and report it to MARP by calling 1-800-628-9944. A field representative will respond to the call to determine if the seal is simply resting or if it is in distress and needs help.

If you see a seal in the coastal bays or its tributaries, we ask you to report it to MCBP (unless you feel it is in distress, then please contact MARP immediately at 1-800-628-9944 by either entering it online through our website — www.mdcoastalbays.org or by calling us at 410-213-2297, ext 107, so we can keep track of where our visitors are and how they are doing. If you are lucky enough to have a seal residing close to you, please keep the MCBP posted on its activity. But most importantly, keep it safe by giving it space.

If you are fortunate or brave enough to be out on the water this winter, please keep your eyes peeled for our furry visitors. Seals are likely to surface unexpectedly and can move quickly. Please stay at least 50 yards away if you see any seals on land or in our bays. This goes for non-motorized water vehicles as well. Close approaches should be avoided as they may elicit an alarm response, causing seals to rapidly enter the water. It is suggested to limit your viewing time to 30 minutes as continued presence can cause unnecessary stress.

We hope and encourage our community to responsibly enjoy and protect our winter visitors. If you would like more information or have a group who would be interested in a presentation on our seal program, please contact Sandi Smith at MCBP at sandis@mdcoastalbays.org or 410-213-2297, ext. 107.
 

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