Aquarium, MCBP Partner On Seal Steward Training

BERLIN – The Maryland Coastal Bays Program is currently recruiting and hosting a volunteer training for seal stewards on Thursday, Oct. 25 at 6 p.m. at the Keyser Point Road fire station.

National Aquarium Director of Animal Rescue Jen Dittmar will conduct the training.

This volunteer opportunity is an “on call” opportunity.  When a seal hauls out, seal stewards will be contacted to see if they are available to man the haul out area to make sure beach and dog walkers keep a safe distance to protect both the walkers and the seal.  Educational material and information will be provided at each haul out so that stewards can inform interested on-lookers. Please contact Sandi at [email protected] or by calling her at 410-213-2297 ext. 106 if you plan on attending the training or would like more information.

Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP) and the National Aquarium partnered four years ago to launch an outreach program on responsible seal viewing and sighting reporting. Out of this partnership developed the seal steward program as Ocean City has been experiencing a significant increase in seal sightings.

Their dog like faces and lumpy body make seals adorably appealing and seemingly approachable; however, a close and personal encounter with a seal can cause serious stress and create a dangerous situation for people and/or the seal.  Seals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). It is against the law to touch, feed or otherwise harass seals and when viewing you are required to stay at least 50 yards from the resting seal (the length of three school buses).

When a seal lays on a beach, it is hauling out, a normal behavior associated with pinnipeds (seals, sea lions and walruses) of temporarily leaving the water between periods of foraging activity for sites on land or ice. Hauling-out is necessary in seals for mating, giving birth, predator avoidance, thermal regulation, social activity, parasite reduction and rest. As the seals are temporary visitors, their hauling out here is primarily for rest or distress. Therefore, close encounters by humans and dogs put both at risk. Seals will bite and serious infections can be transmitted to you or your pet.

If you should encounter a seal on the beach this offseason, call the National Aquarium stranding hotline 410-576-3880 or 1-800-628-9944 so a trained observer can evaluate the condition of the seal to determine if it’s doing its normal thing or is in distress.