On Saturday June 1st, a young male gray seal was spotted near the jetty at Rudee Inlet, according to the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. This same seal was first sighted in southern NC in mid-May, where it underwent its annual molt.
Although hundreds of miles south of its normal late-spring range, this seal appears healthy and uninjured. Upon consultation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) - the federal agency in charge of protecting this species of marine mammal -- the Aquarium has been monitoring the seal’s health and behavior. Seals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act – which means no matter how cute and docile they may look, they should be given a wide berth.
Each winter, the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team handles dozens of calls about seals, usually harbor seals, on the beaches, docks and piers of the Virginia coast. Sightings of seals have increased dramatically in the last ten years and many of the seals we see appear to be healthy and do not need our intervention, but they do need to be left alone. It is normal behavior for seals to spend time out of water. SEALS ARE WILD ANIMALS! They have very sharp teeth and will bite if feeling threatened. No one should ever approach, feed, touch, or harass any seal in the wild. Nor should anyone fish or discard bait in the water near the seal. Federal law not only protects the seal (it has chosen our beaches for resting, and citizens need to respect its needs for space and resources), it also protects humans. A seal that is constantly disturbed or fed by citizens will not get the rest it needs to stay healthy and could begin to associate humans as sources for food.
“The Aquarium truly appreciates the community’s continued cooperation in protecting and keeping this visitor to our area wild,” said Mark Swingle, the Aquarium’s Director of Research & Conservation. If you see a seal, please immediately call the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response hotline at (757)385-7575. They will ask you a series of questions to help determine whether the seal is in need of help or if it should be left alone to rest undisturbed.
Please follow the guidelines below when you encounter a seal on land:
◦Keep people and pets away from resting seals. A seal on the beach doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong. Keep pets on leashes and give seals a wide berth of 150 feet or more so they can rest undisturbed.
◦Do not walk between a resting seal and its access to water. If you have to walk around a seal, walk on the land side and avoid blocking its exit route.
◦Be quiet around a resting seal. Loud or sudden noises will disturb them.
◦Never approach closely. Wild seals can carry diseases (including rabies) and parasites that you or your pet could get if bitten.
◦Never offer food to a wild seal. Seals are wild animals and feeding them not only allows them to lose their natural fear of humans, but is also illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and could carry a hefty fine. Bears in some of our national parks are examples of this unfortunate interaction.
◦Do not fish or discard bait near a seal on land or in the water. Seals that associate food with fishermen can become nuisance animals which can be dangerous.
◦Report seal sightings at any time to the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team at (757) 385-7575 (24 hrs per day).
◦Enjoy the view! Seals are beautiful wild animals. Enjoy them from a distance and respect their need to stay wild.
The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums whose mission is to inspire conservation of the marine environment through education, research and sustainable practices. The Aquarium is located at 717 General Booth Boulevard, just south of Rudee Inlet in Virginia Beach. For more information on exhibits, movies, boat rides and special event, call (757) 385-FISH (3474).